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A User's Guide to Entropy

Author(s): Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss

Source: October, Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 38-88
Published by: The MIT Press
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A User's Guide to Entropy*

ENTROPY. Roger Caillois's example is simple: hot and cold water mixing together
to settle into a uniformly tepid blandness.1 Robert Smithson's is only somewhat
more complex. To explain entropy he asks his reader to imagine a sandbox filled
on one side with white sand and on the other with black.2 A little boy begins to run
around the enclosure in a clockwise direction, kicking up the sand as he goes and
mixing together dark grains with light. He is then told to reverse his course and
run counterclockwise. This will certainly do nothing to undo the movement toward
uniformity and re-sort the two colors into separate fields. As his legs continue to
churn, the process of entropy will, irreversibly,only progress and deepen.
Although both these meditations on the second law of thermodynamics were
conceived at more or less the same time-Caillois's "Ladissymetrie" first presented
as a lecture in 1970, Smithson's "The Monuments of Passaic" written in 1967-
Caillois's argument reaches back to his earliest, brilliant essays from Minotaure,
published in the 1930s. Medusa & Co., his book on the phenomenon of animal
mimicry which in 1960 expanded the ideas of his 1935 "Mimicry and Legendary
Psychasthenia," works on some of the same material that will now concern him in
relation to entropy, namely, the dissymmetry between left and right that runs
right back from the rightward spiraling of the galaxies, through the superior
dexterity of the right side of humans, down to the preference for the right half of
the nucleic chain in the chemical compounds that make up life.3
This bridge to the subject of mimicry, plus the nature of the two examples,
particularly Smithson's, could give the impression that entropy's import is
particularly acute for visual analysis and most especially for that which concerns
* The main body of the catalogue for the exhibition LInforme:moded'emploi,from which this group
of texts derives, is in dictionary form, divided roughly into four sections: Base Materialism;Horizontality;
Pulse; and Entropy. As is clear from the alphabetical organization of the following entries, "entropy"
puts in its first appearance near the beginning of the dictionary, and then forms a cluster at the end.
1. Roger Caillois, La dissymetrie(Paris: Gallimard, 1973).
2. Robert Smithson, "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey," Artforum (December
1967); reprinted in Robert Smithson, The CollectedWritings,ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and
London: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 68-74.
3. Caillois's argument in La dissymetrie,however, is that this break with symmetry is antientropic,
producing the imbalance that allows for the break to occur between inorganic life, which is strictly
crystalline and symmetrical in structure, and organic life.
OCTOBER78, Fall 1996, pp. 39-88. ? 1996 Yve-AlainBois and RosalindKrauss.
le Diable,"photographfrom
Animal Mimicry byRogerCaillois. 1963.

modernist painting. For the image of the sandbox's erasure of the division
between white and black seems to rhyme very nicely with the photographs from
Minotaure of insects so perfectly imitating the patterns of their habitats as to
vanish completely into the uniformity of one, continuous texture. And this in turn
makes it seem that what is at issue is a question of boundary or contour, which is
to say, of the distinction between figure and ground.
Indeed, in Caillois's early essay the boundary condition is precisely what breaks
down in what is described as a form of insectoid psychosis, as the animal is unable to
hold the distinction between itself and its leafy milieu intact. Caillois compares this
condition to that reported by schizophrenics who feel themselves dispossessed and
even devoured by the space around them. In the grip of this, he writes,
The individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other
side of his senses. He tries to look at himself from any point whatever of
space. He feels himself becoming space. ... He is similar, not similar to
something, but just similar.And he invents spaces of which he is "the
convulsive possession."4
The steady erosion of figure/ground distinction which ties the schizophrenic
to what has been termed the "subjective detumescence" of the animal gripped by
mimicry5 might indeed seem to blend imperceptibly into that clamor for the
erasure of distinctions that characterized the world of avant-garde practice, such
as the call for the collapse of the barrier "separating art from life." But more
specifically, since the mimicry example apparently addresses the visual condition
of figure/ground, it would seem to resonate with the ambition internal to "high
modernism" to conceive a spatial condition unique to the perceptual modality
specific to the arts of vision, one that would cancel all separations of figures from
their surrounding spaces or backgrounds to produce a continuum unimaginable
for our earthly bodies to traverse, but into which we as viewersmight easily slide-
or glide-in an effortless, soaring, purely opticalmovement.6
And "purity"is, indeed, the operative word in this ideological drive toward a
visualist or "optical" dimension. For in sloughing off the inevitable separations of
space as we normally experience it, in which objects stand apart from one another
and space is discontinuous with them, this new optical continuum would be the
result of what one vocabulary would call sublation-as figure and ground achieve a
new and higher synthesis-and another sublimation,since the purified space would,
in dispensing with bodies, rid itself as well of all the drives to which bodies are

4. Roger Caillois, "Mimicryand Legendary Psychasthenia," trans. John Shepley, October31 (Winter
1984), p. 30.
5. Denis Hollier, "Mimesis and Castration 1937," October31 (Winter 1985), pp. 3-16.
6. The operative text here is Clement Greenberg's "Modernist Painting" (1960), in which he
describes this opticality: "The Old Masters created an illusion of space in depth that one could imagine
oneself walking into, but the analogous illusion created by the Modernist painter can only be seen into;
can be traveled through, literally or figuratively, only with the eye" (Greenberg, The CollectedEssaysand
Criticism,vol. 4, ed. John O'Brian [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993], p. 90).
A User'sGuideto Entropy 41

lamentably prone, erotic and otherwise. As both sublation and sublimation would
indicate, furthermore, this act of purification is understood as formal progress,
rather than the reverse: as a process of moving visual form closer to eidos;of visual
form divested of its natural accoutrements and taken up closer to the idea of itself.
So it is important to note that the models Smithson actually built, whether in
his early sculpture or his writings, were determinedly antivisualist. For him the intel-
lectual challenge of thinking about entropy was temporal rather than spatial, which is
why he liked the geological metaphor, the idea of a spatial site ravaged by billions of
years of upheaval that results in the stratifications of the geological "clock"appearing
to have been submitted to the mercy of a gigantic cocktail shaker. Describing such a
site he writes, "Syncline (downward) and anticline (upward) outcroppings and the
asymmetrical cave-ins caused minor swoons and vertigos. The brittleness of the site
seemed to swarmaround one, causing a sense of displacement."7
And when he initially conceived of a sculptural model of this crystalline
world, it was in the form of EnantiomorphicChambers(1964), a work made up of
facing mirrors positioned in such a way that the viewer placed between them-
instead of being multiplied to infinity in the cross fire of reflections-would both
disappear from the space ricocheting between the canted, facing planes and
observe the trajectory of his or her gaze bifurcate into multiple, unsynthesizable
vanishing points. It is not just the viewer's body that cannot occupy this space,
then; it is the beholder's visual logic as well, as the Chambersexplore what needs to
be called a kind of "structuralblindness."
Another model for this vertiginous (anti-)visual field, antivisual because it
logically erases any beholder, was the simulacral condition of the mirror itself, the
mirror with which Smithson ends his tour of "the monuments of Passaic":
I walked down a parking lot that covered the old railroad tracks which
at one time ran through the middle of Passaic. That monumental
parking lot divided the city in half, turning it into a mirror and a
reflection-but the mirror kept changing places with the reflection.
One never knew what side of the mirror one was on. There was nothing
interestingor even strange about that flat monument, yet it echoed a
kind of clich6 idea of infinity.8
When Plato introduces the notion of the simulacrum in The Sophist he
describes it as a copy that, though identical, has paradoxically become nonresem-
blant. Since all earthly objects are themselves copies of forms, it is not the fact of
being a copy that is simulacral, but that of being an untrue, nonresemblant copy, as
in the Christian doctrinal case in which humanity is made in God's image, but,
having fallen into sin, no longer resembles Him. Christian revelation itself provides
a guide through which the individual subject can map its way through a thicket of

7. Smithson, "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,"Artforum(September 1968); reprinted

in Writings,pp. 110-11.
8. Smithson, Writings,p. 73.

false replicas and back to the inner truth that would secure resemblance. But in
TheSophist,Plato imagines the possibility of a mapless world, in which there would
be no way to measure, no way to tell the difference between the true copy and the
simulacrum, and thus "whatside of the mirror one was on."9
This is why for Smithson, entropy was less a condition of boundaries sur-
mounted within a visualist space mastered by a transcendental subject than a
function of a structural blindness brought on by a kind of simulacral riddle that
perplexingly has no place in space at all. Unsurprisingly, for Caillois as well, it is
the simulacral puzzle that is at the heart of his interest in mimicry. Caillois tells the
story of the praying mantis, the ultimate mimetic animal, who not only folds itself
into a stalk-like immobility through which it becomes visually indistinguishable
from the branches on which it sits, but outrunning the visual in this domain, uses
as its main line of defense against its predators the strategy of playing dead.
Indeed, so deep is the imitative reflex ingrained in this creature that it can, when
decapitated and thus truly dead, continue to mime the functions of life, such as
hunting for food, building a nest, even laying eggs, all the way up to the ultimate
form of its preservation of life: that of "playing dead." And like Smithson's mirror
of Passaic, it is this intellectual vista into the abyss of the undecidable-into-infinity
that fixates Caillois on the praying mantis: this most spectacular model of the
simulacrum performed as death imitating life imitating death.10
If subjectivity is born through reflexiveness, through the possibility of con-
sciousness folding back on itself to take cognizance of itself in the "I think," it is
the merely repetitive possibility of the reflex that undoes the subject, depriving
the statement's "thinking" of its ego. This is the case of the praying mantis, for
which the automatism of "playing dead," which can occur from the vantage of
either death or life, makes it possible to imagine the impossible statement "I am
dead" to be projected within this situation. This utterance, which no first person
can truly pronounce from the horizon of its occurrence, but which the mantis
exemplifies, demonstrates the way the simulacral condition is coupled with a
radical desubjectivization. For in the case in point, the "am dead" is true; but
either way, alive or dead, the "I"is not possible.
"I am seeing" is the analogous statement at the level of visual form. Reflexive
modernism wants to cancel the naturalism in the field of the object in order to
bring about a newly heightened sense of the subject, a form that creates the illusion
that it is nothing except the fact that "I am seeing" [it]. The entropic, simulacral
move, however, is to float the field of seeing in the absence of the subject; it wants
to show that in the automism of repetition to infinity, the disappearance of the
first person is the mechanism that triggers formlessness.


9. See Gilles Deleuze, "Plato and the Simulacrum," in The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New
York:Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 253-65.
10. Caillois, "La Mante religieuse," Minotaure,no. 5 (1934).
BronxFloors:Double Doors. 1973.

QUALITIES (WITHOUT). "To turn an object upside-down is to deprive it of its

meaning," as Merleau-Ponty notes in his Phenomenologyof Perception.And the
example he gives is particularly convincing (try it and see!):
If someone is lying on a bed, and I look at him from the head of the
bed, the face is for a moment normal. It is true that the features are in
a way disarranged, and I have some difficulty in realizing that the smile
is a smile, but I feel that I could, if I wanted, walk around the bed, and I
seem to see through the eyes of a spectator standing at the foot of the
bed. If the spectacle is protracted, it suddenly changes its appearance:
the face takes on an utterly unnatural aspect, its expressions become
terrifying, and the eyelashes and eyebrows assume an air of materiality
such as I have never seen in them. For the first time I really see the
inverted face as if this were its "natural"position: in front of me I have
a pointed, hairless head with a red, teeth-filled orifice in the forehead
and, where the mouth ought to be, two moving orbs edged with glis-
tening hairs and underlined with stiff brushes.l

1. of Perception(1945), trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge

Maurice Merleau-Ponty,Phenomenology
& Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 252.

Why would this be? Because our perception is oriented (and oriented in
relation to our upright posture): it's this that Merleau-Ponty retains from Gestalt
psychology. Certainly, but why the tragic tone? Because here it is a question of
the human face: the panic comes from the fact that the narcissistic imago of the
perceiver has been attacked.
But doesn't this failure of specular identification, a sort of demonstration by
negative example of the formative function of the mirror stage such as that had
been isolated by Lacan, have its comic aspects as well? The upended face, of which
Merleau-Ponty speaks, is also that of a grotesque clown: the panic that overcomes
the philosopher could just as well have led to laughter. And this, moreover, is what
inevitably happens when the reversal involves neither the human face nor the
whole body.
"We should like to know what the egowould be in a world in which no one
had any idea of mirror symmetry,"Lacan wonders, a world, for instance-to refer
to the famous example used by Kant-in which the noncongruence of the left and
right hands would go unnoticed.2 What happens when noncongruence is itself
inverted, as in Hans Bellmer's photographs of hands crossing back-to-back (1934)?
Or when the hands (or the mirror) are pivoted into the horizontal plane, as in
Bruce Nauman's Finger TouchNo. 1 and Finger Touchwith Mirrors(1966)? Nothing
less than a "psychasthenic" loss of the subject, a burlesque return to animality, a
leaking away into the nondifferentiated.3

2. Jacques Lacan, "De nos antecedents," Ecrits (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1966), p. 71. This follows
an allusion to Kant, the ultimate "papa-philosopher," to use Bataille's expression. See the article
"Space"in the Documents"Critical Dictionary,"Documents1 (1930), p. 41, reprinted in OeuvresCompletes,
vol. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), p. 227 (hereafter cited as OC); trans. lain White in Encyclopaedia
Acephalica,ed. Alastair Brotchie (London: Atlas Press, 1995), p. 75 (hereafter cited as EA).
3. See Caillois, "Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia." On this text, see the articles "Entropy"
and "WaterCloset."

Hans BellmerThree Hands. 1934.

A User'sGuideto Entropy 45

And if the overturned object doesn't belong to our own bodies? It becomes a
kind of black hole in our perception, reminding us that our self-assurance, insofar
as it rests only on the solidity of our legs, is in fact rather precarious. Perhaps this
is what Robert Smithson wanted to show with his Upside-DownTrees;he says that
flies were attracted to them by their riddle-like character:
Flies would come and go from all over to look at the upside-down
trees, and peer at them with their compound eyes. What the fly sees is
"something a little worse than a newspaper photograph as it would
look to us under a magnifying glass." (See Animals WithoutBackbones,
Ralph Buchsbaum.) The "trees" are dedicated to the flies.... They are
all welcome to walk on the roots with their sticky, padded feet, in
order to get a close look. Whyshouldflies be withoutart?4
Smithson's flies are ludicrous-they have more to do with that visual quack
landing "on the nose of the orator" to which Bataille alludes in his important article
on "the human face," much to the disgust of Andre Breton, than with those dead
ones, in close-up, by Boiffard, or those shown in macrophotographs illustrating
another of Bataille's texts, this time of a dark pessimism, published in the final issue
of Documents("The Modern Spirit and the Game of Transpositions").
The flies are ludicrous, but nonetheless they signal the limited character of
our human world. Smithson moreover makes immediate allusion to the geographic
inversion that these "upside-down trees" presuppose: "Perhaps they are dislocated
'North and South poles' marking peripheral places, polar regions of the mind
fixed in mundane matter-poles that have slipped from the geographical moor-
ings of the world's axis. Central points that evade being central."5 The upside-down
tree is a sadistic reply to the habitual childish question, What would happen if a
tunnel were dug below my feet that would come out on the other side of the earth?
The world loses it center, that is, it has no meaning or direction (we are lost there)
because its imaginary seat is inverted-as Piero Manzoni himself had demonstrated
in 1961 with his Socle du monde.
Without consciousness of "mirror symmetry" the subject would dissolve into
space, and the world, anthropocentric for the Gestalt-oriented human, would be
stripped of its qualities, made characterless, isotropic. We would lose our marbles
there: signs themselves would become empty, flat; there would be smoke without
fire. Even the most immediate elements of communication, the index or indices,
for example, would no longer point to anything. In a world with no differentiation
of "regions within space," to put it like Kant, imprints would become illegible. For
the world to lose its meaning, it is enough to turn it inside-out like a glove, to
invert the full and the empty. Platform Made Up of the Space between Two Rectilinear
Boxes on the Floor (1966), or even A Cast of the Space under My Chair (1965-68), by

4. Smithson, "Incidents of Mirror Travels in the Yucatan" (1968) in Writings,p. 129.

5. Ibid.
PieroManzoni.Socle du monde.

Bruce Nauman, signal above all the indecipherable character of the cast as such:
only the caption (itself comic) tells us what it is of. The same what's that?could be
uttered before the plaster casts of crumpled paper that Picasso made in 1934
(shortly before the essays by Caillois on animal mimicry and psychasthenia
appeared),6 or faced with the bronze by Jean Arp titled ReliefFollowingthe Torn
Papers (1930), or with Duchamp's FemaleFig Leaf (1950). The upside-down face
became hideous for Merleau-Ponty because, as a phenomenologist, he was sworn
to uphold the anthropocentric idea of the world: once we abandon this, everything,
even the organs of the human body, can be redoubled by prosthetic appendage.
No more transpositions, no more metaphors: "The earth is base, the world is

6. Cailloisspeaksbrieflythere of the morphologicalmimicry(and not only the visual)of certain
animalspeciesas a sortof reliefphotography:it "couldthen be, afterthe fashionof chromaticmimicry,
an actualphotography,but of the form and the relief, a photographyon the level of the object and
not on that of the image, a reproductionin three-dimensionalspacewith solids and voids:sculpture-
photographyor better teleplasty if one strips the word of any metapsychicalcontent"("Mimicryand
LegendaryPsychasthenia," p. 23).
7. GeorgesBataille,"The 'Old Mole' and the PrefixSurin the WordsSurhomme [Superman]and
a text replyingto Breton'sSecondSurrealist
Surrealist," Manifestoin OC,vol. 2, p. 107;trans.AllanStoekl,
in Bataille,VisionsofExcess(Minneapolis:Universityof MinnesotaPress,1985),p. 43. On this sentence
and the manner in which, despite appearances,it contradicts the principle of identity, see Denis
Hollier,AgainstArchitecture,trans.BetsyWing(Cambridge:MITPress,1989),p. 104ff.
A User's Guide to Entropy 47

RAY GUNS. Trash collection is the business of public sanitation; its recycling, the
very height of capitalist alchemy, turns everything into grist for commodification's
mill. But it is also a strategy of aesthetic sublimation that, according to Thomas
Crow, is internal to modernism (he has analyzed the cyclical aspect of this in
terms of the incorporation of the "low"by the "high").' In this matter of artistic
recycling, the work of Dubuffet and of Pop art represent two examples from the
two extremes of a huge gamut of possibilities.
As he said himself in 1946, Dubuffet tried to "rehabilitate dirt." After having
listed the materials in the Hautes Pates shown in his "Mirobolus, Macadam & Cie"
exhibition ("very vulgar and cost-free substances such as coal, asphalt, or even
dirt"), materials whose shock-effect at the time we now find surprising, he writes:
In the name of what-except perhaps the coefficient of rarity-does
man deck himself out in necklaces of pearls and not of spider webs, in
fox furs and not in fox innards? In the name of what, I want to know?
Don't dirt, trash, and filth, which are man's companions during his
whole lifetime, deserve to be dearer to him and shouldn't he pay them
the compliment of making a monument to their beauty?2
As for Pop art, more nostalgic perhaps than it seems, it takes the inversion
covertly carried out by the capitalist economy as its starting point: it's the commodity
itself (and the kitsch of the culture industry) that is the contemporary cast-off, and it
is this very throwawaythat it's a matter of redeeming.
Claes Oldenburg started off from Dubuffet (along with Celine, this was the
major reference for his beginnings), and he ended up with Pop. Between these two
points of his itinerary came the invention of the Ray Gun. Initially it put in a timid
appearance in the scrap heap of the first exhibition, "The Street," in January to
March 1960, among the torn silhouettes pinned to the walls or hanging from the
ceiling, and in the form of notes that the visitor could read. These notes are
Dubuffet "applied" to the urban theme: "The city is a landscape worth enjoying-
damn necessary if you live in the city. Dirt has depth and beauty. I love soot and
scorching. From all this can come a positive as well as a negative meaning."3 Given
the fact that it is urban, the trash is a little less aestheticized than in Dubuffet's
work. The silhouettes were cut out with a blowtorch from material gathered in the
street (lots of corrugated cardboard, and newspapers), and the Judson Gallery
itself-where a series of "Happenings" also took place-became a kind of trash

1. Thomas Crow, "Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts," in Modernismand Modernity,
ed. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Serge Guilbaut, and David Solkin (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia
College of Art and Design, 1983), pp. 215-64.
2. Jean Dubuffet, "L'auteur repond a quelques objections," reprinted in Prospectuset tous ecrits
suivants, vol. 2, ed. Hubert Damisch (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), pp. 61-62. This text was first published
in the catalogue of the exhibition "Mirobolus, Macadam & Cie, Hautes Pates," at the Galerie Rene
Drouin in 1946, then republished many times, notably under the title "Rehabilitation de la boue."
3. Claes Oldenburg, cited by Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg(New York: Museum of Modern Art,
1970), p. 46.
ClaesOldenburg.Mouse Museum,
Ray Gun Wing. Circa1977.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 49

can: the ground was littered with detritus of all kinds; bums hung out there. But it
was still an aestheticization of trash (which was even more obvious in the second
exhibition of "The Street" at the Reuben Gallery two months later, made from the
rarefied residues of the first one).
Secluded in the country after these two exhibitions, Oldenburg drew this
lesson from them: "A refuse lot in the city is worth all the art stores in the world."4
It was at this point that he began seriously elaborating the figure of the Ray Gun, at
the same time that he prepared the objects he would soon sell for over a year
(intermittently from 1961 to 1963), in his studio-shop The Store-ostensibly slapdash
and oversized "replicas," made of cloth soaked in plaster and garishly colored, of
perishable foodstuffs, or of tiny objects of contemporary consumption.
The two projects were related (moreover, The Store was placed under the
rubric Ray Gun Manufacturing Company, as indicated by the poster announcing
its opening): their essential stake, the question of recycling. The Store's idea takes
off from the premise that all avant-gardist daring is assimilable, recuperable by
middle-class culture ("The bourgeois scheme is that they wish to be disturbed
from time to time, they like that, but then they envelop you, and that little bit is
over, and they are ready for the next"). The projected solution to this dilemma:
skip over the illusory stage during which art pretends to escape the condition of
the commodity. Art objects "are displayed in galleries, but that is not the place
for them. A store would be better (Store-place full of objects). Museum in
b. [bourgeois] concept equals store in mine."5 The Store would thus function like
any other, each piece sold being immediately replaced on the shelves by another,
often made on the spot (like any other store, but this is not to say that the prices,
even though modest, would be those of the corner grocery-it wasn't a matter of
"democratizing" art, but of avoiding the detour of its aesthetic sublimation):
"Store is cloaca; defecation is passage," writes Oldenburg.6
The solution was provisional, and Oldenburg knew very well that the objects
he sold in his Storewould end up in a museum; but it's from that end that the Ray
Gun attacks the problem of recycling. At the outset (in "The Street" show), it was
a question of a parodic science-fiction toy, whose image Oldenburg took over by
simplifying it. But he quickly saw that it didn't take anything to make a Ray Gun:
any right angle would suffice, even blunted, even barely perceptible. The Ray Gun
is the "universal angle": "Examples: Legs, Sevens, Pistols, Arms, Phalli-simple Ray
Guns. Double Ray Guns: Cross, Airplanes. Absurd Ray Guns: Ice Cream Sodas.
Complex Ray Guns: Chairs, Beds."7 Mondrian didn't need to reduce everything to
the right angle: everything is already a right angle. During the time of The Store,

4. Ibid., notes dated "Provincetown, 1960," p. 191.

5. Claes Oldenburg, notes from 1961 in StoreDays (New York:Something Else Press, 1967), p. 8.
6. Cited in Rose, Claes Oldenburg,p. 33. The list of prices can be found in StoreDays, pp. 31-34.
Rarely under $100, even going up to $899.95 (Oldenburg mimics the commercial ploy of avoiding
round numbers).
7. Claes Oldenburg, notes dated "New York, 1961," reprinted in Coosje van Bruggen, Claes
Oldenburg:MouseMuseum/RayGun Wing (Cologne: Museum Ludwig, 1979), p. 24.

Oldenburg made huge numbers of Ray Guns (in plaster, in papier mache, in all
kinds of materials in fact), but he soon saw that he didn't even need to make
them: the world is full of Ray Guns. All one has to do is stoop to gather them
from the sidewalks (the Ray Gun is an essentially urban piece of trash: Oldenburg
produced their anagram as Nug Yar: New York). Even better: he didn't even need
to collect them himself; he could ask his friends to bring them to him (he limited
himself to accepting or refusing the find's addition into the corpus, according to
purely subjective criteria). Finally, there are all the Ray Guns one can't move-
splotches on the ground, holes in the wall, torn posters-but which one could
photograph. The "inventory"is potentially infinite. And what should be done with
this invasive tide? Put it in the museum.
But what museum would want such a proliferation of objects (objects
signifying, for all that, nothing but their very proliferation)? Only a simulacrum
of a museum could be imagined. The idea for one emerged in 1965 but would
not be achieved until 1972, for Documenta V, in Kassel. A selection of Ray Guns
was presented in a special wing of the MouseMuseum(a kind of giant Duchampian
Boite en valise, whose ground plan was in the schematic shape of Mickey Mouse's
head-a Double Ray Gun, it should be remarked in passing),8 and decorously
classified in various vitrines according to whether they had been made by the
artist, simply altered by him, made by others, or only found (without alteration).
The Mouse Museumwas reconstructed in 1979. Since then, Ray Guns have once
again been piling up on the shelves of Oldenburg's studio.
But Oldenburg was not the only one to have cruised the city's trash cans. In
France, beginning in 1949, this was also the option pursued by the decollagistes.
Oldenburg was countering Abstract Expressionism's pathos (which had become
purely rhetorical); for their part, Raymond Hains, Jacques Villegle, and Francois
Dufrene weighed in against art informeland its metaphysical pretensions. But
they were also turning against what had, in its own day, been one of the most
radical modernist inventions, and which had since become rather anodyne
(already in 1930 Carl Einstein noted in Documents:"There was a time when collage
played the part of the acid-thrower [when it was] a means of defense against the
happy chance of virtuosity. Today it has degenerated into easy riddles and is in
danger of lapsing into the fakery of petit-bourgeois decoration").9 No need for
virtuosity, no need for glue, it is enough to strip off posters from the hoardings
where they have accumulated, themselves already partially lacerated by anony-
mous vandals. This is important (it's what constitutes the total difference
between the position of the French decollagistes and that of the Italian, Mimmo
Rotella, who wanted the privilege of being the sole lacerater for himself):10 the

8. Ibid., p. 67.
9. Carl Einstein, "Exposition de Collages" (Galerie Goemans), Documents4 (1930), p. 244.
10. On this point, as on the movement as a whole, see Benjamin Buchloh, "From Detail to
Fragment-Decollage Affichiste," in Dcollage: les affichistes(New York: Zabriskie Gallery, 1990), p. 7.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 51

stripped-off poster is only fragmentarily legible, at best. And moreover, it is not

a matter of one poster but of a veritable mattress of posters, of many skins whose
identity has been destroyed by irregular tearing (carried out over time): the
strata merge into one another; the lettering grafts together; the words cannibal-
ize one another; information is little by little reduced to undifferentiated noise.
The decollages are like Arman's Poubelles (particularly effective when they
showed that nothing would remain from linguistic exchange but a little pile, as
in LAffaire du courrierof 1962): they declare that all activity, but above all human
communication, finishes up as uniform cinders.
This type of entropic deliquescence of language had been exploited by
Dubuffet in 1944, in his exceptional series of Messages,made on newspaper, imitat-
ing the little notes that one tacks to the door of a friend when he or she isn't
home. But even if it is with difficulty, one can still recover enough linguistic matter
(and even sentences) from these scribbled snatches to be able to imagine various
scenarios ("I will wait for you until 8:00 Come back," "The key is under the shutter
Wait for me," "That will teach you"). Nothing of the sort from the decollagistes
(who probably did not know these rare works by Dubuffet and couldn't bear the
rest of his production). With them entropy is even redoubled, since the advertising
poster already belongs to "noise" before ever having been attacked: torn, it has
simply become a more ridiculously evident vanity. As for Dufrene, he only bothers
to show its reverse side: it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.


SWEATS OF THE HIPPO. Were we only to flip casually through Documents,the

first text Bataille published there-"Academic Horse"-which thus functions in
the journal as a kind of manifesto, presents itself as a simple study in comparative
numismatics. An example of Greek money is shown in relation to its deforming,
Gaulish imitations. But as soon as we really start to read the text, things heat up a
bit. In it, with a Manicheanism whose excessiveness he insists on, Bataille is
opposing two worlds: the noble one of Greek antiquity, and the other, savage one
of those barbarians who are our French ancestors. The former takes the horse as
its emblem ("one of the most accomplished expressions of the idea, with the
same claims, for example, as Platonic philosophy or the architecture of the
Acropolis"); the latter chooses hideous monsters. Bataille compares these fantas-
tic creatures to spiders (already presaging the famous image from the paragraph
on the informe),to gorillas (another of our ancestors, more distant in time), and
to the hippopotamus.
This last animal had little chance of being known by the Gauls (Bataille
doesn't say that their coins represent it but that their imaginary monsters displayed
"an obscure resemblance" to it, "insulting the correctness of the academic animal,

the horse among others, in the same way as it does").1 Why the hippo (to which
Bataille refers twice in the article)? He could, for example, have chosen the
camel, whose aspect "reveals, at the same time as the profound absurdity of animal
nature, the cataclysmic and fallen nature of that absurdity and stupidity," as he
would express it somewhat later in Documents.2 The answer is simple: linguistically
speaking, the huge mammal is the grotesque version of the all-too-dignified
hippos-its caricature.
The hippo is fat; it sweats; it is in danger of melting, as-occasionally-are
At the end of March 1944, Dubuffet gave Jean Paulhan one of his recent
pictures as a gift. Several days later it had begun to melt. If we are to believe
Michel Tapie, who reported the episode two years later, embellishing it as he did
so, Dubuffet was "hugely" amused "by these adventures which he characterized as
hippo sweats."3 In fact, the painter wasn't all that happy, for the phenomenon was
ongoing, due to the untested materials he was then employing (asphalt, for exam-
ple). Two years later, and despite all his precautions, yet another gift to Paulhan
had begun to sweat:
I am very alarmed by this haematidrosis phenomenon concerning the
Homme des murailles. I had carefully chosen a painting about which
nothing of the like could be expected, and this painting was the only
one that seemed to me ... completely reliable. Nothing more alarming
than these oozings, which stain anything placed under the picture in
the dirtiest manner. I am astounded. And with great unease I imagine
what the other pictures are doing (those which aren't reliable). I ask
Germaine to forgive me. Perhaps it's the heat of the stove that has set
off some ingredient forming the composition of the encrustations? I
think nonetheless that one could rehang the painting in the vertical
position and nothing similar would recur. Otherwise, I will take it back
and cure it of its wish to run, by heating it with a soldering torch for
example, so that everything that wants to run could do so once and for

Despite the playful tone (and the ritual excuses to Mrs. Paulhan for the
mess in her living room), we feel the artist's alarm: What would he do if all his
highly encrusted (haute pate) canvases began to ooze? We can imagine the effect

1. Georges Bataille, "Le cheval academique," Documents1 (1929), pp. 27-31, reprinted in OC,vol. 1,
pp. 159-63.
2. Georges Bataille, "Chameau," Documents5 (1929), p. 275, reprinted in OC, p. 194; trans. Iain
White in EA,p. 38.
3. Michel Tapie, Microbolus,Macadam & Cie: Hautes Pdtes deJean Dubuffet (Paris: Galerie Drouin,
1946), p. 28. I am grateful to Rachel Perry for having called my attention to this text and for much of
what concerns Dubuffet here.
4. Jean Dubuffet, letter to Jean Paulhan, datedJanuary 15, 1946, published in Jean Paulhan a travers
sespeintres(exhibition catalogue) (Paris: Grand Palais, Editions des musees nationaux, 1974), p. 96.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 53

GordonMatta-Clark.Photo-Fry. 1969.

that this news would have on his collectors. Later, Claes Oldenburg wished that
such a catastrophe would strike the hanging sculptures he had sold in his Store:
"Perhaps, I have imagined, since most of the pieces were made at about the same
moment, with what later proved to be insufficient thickness of wire, they will all
drop at once, all over the world."5 Nothing like this for Dubuffet (which is why
his work participates only exceptionally in the informe):in his case, despite all his
materiological researches, the painting most frequently remains an "academic
Melting is an entropic process par excellence,and perhaps this is one of the
reasons Bataille was so interested in the Icarus myth. As Edward Ruscha showed
with his Liquid Words,melting means falling into in-difference. Liquid is what is
always everywhere the same. And it's toward just such a uniformity, as Michel

5. Oldenburg, notes dated 1968, in Rose, ClaesOldenburg,p. 194.

GordonMatta-Clark.Glass Ingot. 1971.

Leiris reports it, that Mir6 was also aim-

ing in his so-called Portraitsof 1929: they
expressed "this liquefaction, this
implacable evaporation of structures ...
this flaccid leaking away of substance
that makes everything-us, our ideas,
and the ambience in which we live-like
jellyfish or octopi."6
It was only a matter of depicted
fusion there, but what happens when this
becomes the very process of the work?
The same thing, but more clearly and
more immediately, without the distance of representation, since the very material-
ity of the work is engaged.
To make hisbritlages (1939), Raoul Ubac submitted the photographic emul-
sion of the negative to the heat of a little hot plate: the images literally liquefied,
just like the melted glass from Mont Pel(e which doubtlessly had fascinated him
(this deformed object, the result of a volcanic eruption, was one of the mascots of
the Surrealist group with which he was associated). Exactly thirty years later,
Gordon Matta-Clarkfried positive prints with some gold leaf that melted in the
pan and fused with the photographic emulsion (he sent his Photo-Fries as Christmas
presents, one of which went to Robert Smithson). After this first experiment,
Matta-Clark made a whole series of
works having fusion as their principle:
one type, often carrying the title Glass
Plant (1971), magnifies the action of the
Mont Pel6e eruption by transforming
collected bottles of beer or soda into
repulsive ingots; another type had agar
(the gelatin one gets from algae) as its
base, which he cooked in large sheets
with many different substances (yeast,
sugar, concentrated milk, vegetable
juice, chicken bouillon, sperm oil, etc.),
then mixing it with yet other substances
(mold cultures, trash gathered in the Gordon Matta-Clark.GlassPlant. 1971.

6. MichelLeiris,'JoanMir6," Documents 5 (1929)p. 264.GeorgesDidi-Huberman relatesthistext

to a briefreviewof an Arpexhibition,publishedtwoissueslater,whereLeiriswritesthatthisartist
"makes hisformsbuckleand,systematically, makingeverything almostalike,overwhelmsillusoryclassi-
ficationsand the veryscaleof createdthings"(Documents 7 [1929],p. 340).See Didi-Huberman, La
informeou le quisavoirvisuelselonGeorges
Bataille(Paris:Macula,1995),pp. 146-47.That
everything becomeslikeeverything elseis entropyitself:the worksbyArpsoonattainthis (theyare
"almost" there,Leirissays),and thisfor a briefmoment,withhis crumpledand tornpapers(see,
below,"Water Closet").
A User'sGuideto Entropy 55

street, etc.) and left to dry. There is only one object left from this latter series,
Land of Milk and Honey (1969), a kind of false, contorted, topographical relief; but
these agar-based works were initially shown as a group, when their organic mate-
rials were still in a state of chemical mutation.7 The installation of these
ephemeral works, thin reliefs suspended in space by a network of ropes, was
called Museum: a museum dedicated to the glory of the picture-as-hippopotamus.


7. One could relate Matta-Clark's interest in mold to Oldenburg's self-portraits in Jell-O from
1966, soon covered in mold and thrown in the garbage. And we should also refer to the sculptures
made of stale porridge ("emitting a faint but sickly smell and ... the color of cheese") and of other
perishable materials with which Schwitters peopled the temporary Merzbauhe installed in the cabin of
a camp in which he was imprisoned, as a German citizen, on his arrival in England in 1940 (Fred
Uhlman, cited by John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters[New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1985], p. 205).
There were already perishable elements in the Hannover Merzbau.Moreover, all the firsthand reports
of this first Merzbauinsist on the fact that it didn't stop growing, like a cancer which little by little
invaded the architectural space, Schwitters adding new elements to it daily: entropic invasion par
excellence.I thank Lauri Firstenberg (on Oldenburg) and Tim Rohan (on Schwitters) for having
drawn my attention to these rotting works.

THRESHOLE. The first entry in the "Critical Dictionary" in Documents, signed by

Bataille, is "Architecture." In his seminal book, Against Architecture, Denis Hollier
carefully explores the implications of this beginning as well as the ramifications of
the architectural theme for Bataille: philosophy's preferred metaphor (even marking
the origins of art for Hegel, the philosopher against whom Bataille fought the
most throughout his life), architecture is another name for system itself, for the
regulation of the plan. Every monument is a monument of social order, a call to
order issued to inspire fear ("The fall of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of
things. This mass movement is difficult to explain otherwise than by popular
hostility toward the monuments which are their veritable masters"). Architecture
is the human ideal, the superego. Consequently, "an attack on architecture ... is
necessarily, as it were, an attack on man."
Bataille does not, however, develop this latter idea. He inverts the poles of the
metaphor. What he targets is not so much man's image within architecture as archi-
tecture's within man: whether it be the man of authority ("prelates, magistrates,
admirals") or man serving authority, architecture functions for him as an imaginary
projection: he does his best to make himself into an "architectural composition"
("Man would seem to represent merely an intermediary stage within the morpho-
logical development between monkeys and tall buildings"). According to Bataille,
one of the greatest achievements of modern painters (Picasso?) is to have attacked
such a generalized petrification. He conceives of their aggressive assaults against

human anatomy as "a path ... [that] opens up toward bestial monstrosity, as if there
were no other way of escaping the architectural straitjacket."'
At first sight, it seems strange that Bataille gave up so quickly on the first
vein of his thought (the charge against architecture is in fact a charge against
man, that is, against the project) in order to pursue the rather traditional line of
anatomical deformation in modern painting, but one that chimes with what one
could call his aesthetic limitations (which, moreover, are those of the whole
Documentsgroup): burdened by a figurative conception of art, he doesn't conceive
of a more ambitious aesthetic violation than that of launching a low blow against
the human form.
On two occasions, however, Bataille would illustrate one of his texts in
Documentswith an image attesting to the vulnerability of architecture: the first
photograph, accompanying the dictionary entry "Cheminee d'usine" (Factory
Chimney) and published without any other commentary than its caption, shows
"The collapse of a chimney stack, 60 meters [120 feet] high, in a London suburb";
the second, directly corresponding to a passage in the entry "Espace,"shows the
"Collapse of a prison in Columbus, Ohio": "Obviously,"Bataille had written on the
preceding page, "it will never enter anybody's head to lock the professors up in
prison to teachthemwhat spaceis (the day, for example, the walls collapse before the
bars of their dungeons)."2 But there again the figurative limitation just mentioned
keeps him from pursuing his architectural incursion any further: just as he doesn't
see how art could strike harder against man than to alter his morphology, so he has
difficulty surpassing the old anthropomorphic metaphor. Rather than reassessing
Vitruvius, he prefers to abort and go on to something else.3
It was only about fifteen years later, perhaps with the image from Documentsin
mind ("the project is the prison I wish to escape from"), that Bataille reintroduced
architecture as the metaphor not of the human figure, but of the idealism of
man's project: "Harmony,like the project, throws time into the outside: its principle
is the repetition through which 'all that is possible' is made eternal. The ideal is
architecture, or sculpture, immobilizing harmony, guaranteeing the duration of
motifs whose essence is the annulment of time."4
Thus the dream of architecture, among other things, is to escape entropy.
This dream may be illusory on its face; but nonetheless this is something that must

1. Georges Bataille, "Architecture,"Documents2 (1929), p. 117, reprinted in OC,vol. 1, pp. 171-72;

trans. Dominic Faccini, October60, reprinted in EA, pp. 35-36.
2. Georges Bataille, "Espace,"Documents1 (1930), pp. 41-42; trans. lain White in EA, p. 77. For the
photograph of the collapsing chimney stack, see Documents6 (1929), p. 329.
3. For a reading that insists to the contrary on the anthropomorphic character of the two
images used by Bataille, and which seems to make Bataille's "morphological" approach, here seen as
a limitation, one of the strong points of his thought, see Didi-Hubermann, La ressemblanceinforme,
pp. 66-67, 81-89.
4. Georges Bataille, L'experienceinterieure(1943), reprinted in OC, vol. 5, pp. 70-73. Translated by
Leslie Anne Boldt as Inner Experience(Stony Brook: State University of New York Press, 1988), p. 56
pp. 45-46.
(translation slightly modified). On this passage, see Hollier, AgainstArchitecture,
A User'sGuideto Entropy 57

be demonstrated-which is to say that one must "exit the domain of the project by
means of a project."5 Such, precisely, would become the program of Robert
Smithson (who, moreover, was not unaware of Bataille)6 and, in a different way,
that of Gordon Matta-Clark.
The literature on the centrality of the concept of entropy for Smithson is vast,
and this is not the place to rehearse it; it is enough to know that it is the pivot
around which all of his work turns, in all its diversity.7 And from his first published
text, "Entropy and the New Monuments" (1966), to an interview conducted just
before his death, "Entropy Made Visible" (1973), Smithson spoke a lot about
entropy as the repressed condition of architecture (he was always scathing about the
naivete of architects who believe themselves able to control the world). However, it
was only very late (and fleetingly) that he became interested in architecture as a
material for his work (perhaps because he believed that, given suburban sprawl on
the one hand, and the proliferation of glass skyscrapers on the other, the repression
of entropy would end up becoming completely self-evident?).
This interest began a little as a schoolboy joke: traveling in Mexico (a trip
that gave rise to his famous "mirror displacements in the Yucatan"), Smithson
brought back not photographs of the ruins of the "Vanished America," cherished
by Bataille, but views of the ramshackle hotel in the process of partial renovation,
where he had stayed in Palenque (it was above all the concurrence in the same
building of reconstruction and signs of decrepitude-since the natural ravages
seem to be accentuated by the activity of the masons-that interested him). A few
years later, the "private joke" became public: to an assembly of architecture students
who came to hear him speak of the famous Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, Smithson
delivered a meticulous (parodic) analysis of the hotel.8
But between the trip to Mexico and the lecture, indicating how determinative
the Palenque experience had been for him, Smithson attacked architecture head-on.
The first project, Island of the Dismantled Building (or Island of Broken Concrete),
conceived for a deserted island in Vancouver Bay, was abandoned because of opposi-
tion by local residents and the ecology movement (to create a ruin deliberately,
without the slightest economic justification, as pure loss-well that's just too much!).9

5. Bataille, InnerExperience,p. 46 (translation slightly modified).

6. The translation of Lerotisme(as Death and Sensuality,1969) was in his library, and it is more than
probable that his remarks on the relations between waste and pleasure originated there. See the
interview "Entropy Made Visible" (1973), in Smithson, Writings,p. 303. For the presence of Bataille's
book in Smithson's library, see the catalogue of the exhibition "Robert Smithson: Le paysage
entropique" (Marseille: Musees de Marseille, Reunion des musees nationaux, 1993), p. 256.
7. RobertSmithson:Le paysageentropiqueis the most recent work devoted to this question. Among the
other texts one finds the excellent development byJames Lingwood, "The Entropologist," pp. 29-36.
8. On this, see Robert Hobbs, RobertSmithson:Sculpture(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981),
pp. 164-65, and Robert A. Sobieszek, RobertSmithson:Photo Words(Los Angeles and Albuquerque:
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and University of New Mexico Press, 1993), pp. 36-37.
9. This project was itself a substitute for Island of BrokenGlass, canceled at the last moment by the
Canadian authorities (and there again under the pressure of the ecology movement). On this, see
Hobbs, RobertSmithson,pp. 185-86.
Robert ClosedMirror

Several projects of the same type followed, of which only the Partially Buried
Woodshedwas realized (on the campus of Kent State University in January 1970).
Projected as a follow-up to GluePour and AsphaltRundown (in the beginning it was
to be simply the unloading of mud onto an inclined field at the university, made
impossible, however, by frost), PartiallyBuriedWoodshed is a "nonmonument" to the
process Smithson calls "de-architecturization": a dump truck poured earth onto
the roof of an old woodshed to the point where its ridge-beam cracked.10
Architecture is the material, and entropy is the instrument (the way gravity served
Pollock as instrument): Smithson merely accentuates this.
Yet, whatever his will to make the force of entropy constantly manifest, in a
certain way Smithson resists it. He freezes the de-architecturization of Partially
BuriedWoodshed (in the contract conveying this work to the university,it is stipulated
that everything should remain in the same condition-thus the Art Department is
given the charge of "maintaining" the work), just as he would have built a higher
platform for his SpiralJettyhad he known that the Great Salt Lake would completely
submerge it.11 To condemn his work totally to entropic destruction, to accept
completely that it be left to collapse into nondifferentiation, would have been to opt
for its invisibilityand thus to participate in the very repression he wanted to lift.

10. PartiallyBuriedWoodshed was to become a "monument" several months after its realization, when
the National Guard killed four students at Kent State during a demonstration against the invasion of
Cambodia: even non-monumentality is ephemeral.
11. See Hobbs, RobertSmithson,p. 191 (for PartiallyBuriedWoodshed)and pp. 196-97 (for SpiralJetty).
A User's Guide to Entropy 59

This is exactly where Gordon Matta-Clark differs fundamentally. It should be

stated, of course, that he began his work in a kind of emulation of Smithson.
About to complete his architectural training at Cornell University, he met the
older artist in 1969, at the time of the "Earth Art" exhibition, the general theme
of which was site-specificity (Smithson executed Mirror Displacement, Cayuga Salt
Mine Project, composed of eight different works, two of which are Slant and Closed
Mirror Square). Smithson quickly became something of a mentor for Matta-Clark
(a relationship acknowledged a few months later by the delivery of a Photo-Fry as a
Christmas "greeting"), who rapidly absorbed Smithson's ideas on entropy.
However, while architecture represented only a passing interest for Smithson,
Matta-Clark had accounts to settle with it (he left Cornell with a degree, but was
disgusted), and he was not going to stop at half measures.
This was not so much a matter of attacking buildings themselves-it was not
fundamentally their structure he wanted to get at (the ruptured roof beam of
Partially Buried Woodshed was not enough for him)-as of striking at the social
function of architecture. Moreover, he only worked on buildings slated for demoli-
tion. It's true that he didn't really have other choices (his only act against a building
in use-and it was no accident that it was the famous Institute for Urban Studies in
New York, where his former professors were installed-was instantly censured),12
and he wasn't absolutely opposed to the idea (because it was utterly unfeasible) to
cut into "inhabited or in any case still usable spaces" ("it would change your percep-
tions for a while").13 But it was essential to his project that the buildings he
transformed be urban waste marked for early destruction ("the reason for going to
abandoned buildings in the first place," he said, "was a fairly deeply rooted preoc-
cupation with that condition; maybe not so much because I can do anything about
it, but because of its predominance in the urbanscape or the urban condition").14
Even before he took to actual buildings, Matta-Clark considered waste as
architecture: in 1970 he built a wall from trash mixed with plaster and tar

12. Invited to take part in an exhibition organized by the Institute, Matta-Clark knocked out the
windows and in their place hung photographs of buildings in the Bronx all of whose windows had been
broken. From the outset he had a very hostile attitude toward the exhibition. (Learning that Richard
Meier, Charles Gwathmey, and Michael Graves were going to participate, he said, "Those are the guys I
studied with at Cornell ... I hate what they represent.") Furious, the Institute's director, Peter
Eisenman, who also taught at Cornell during Matta-Clark'stime there, and whose recent architecture
is in large measure a luxurious recycling of the latter's "anarchitecture," had the panes of glass
replaced in several hours and withdrew the photographs from the exhibition. On this episode, see
the testimony of Andrew MacNair in the catalogue Gordon Matta-Clark: A Retrospective(Chicago:
Museum of Contemporary Art, 1985), p. 96, and the essay by Marianne Brouwer, "Laying Bare," which
traces a parallel between Matta-Clark and Bataille, although in a different way, in GordonMatta-Clark
(Marseille: Editions des Musees de Marseille, 1993), pp. 363-65.
13. Gordon Matta-Clark, interview with Liza Bear on Splitting, in Avalanche (December 1974),
reprinted in GordonMatta-Clark(Marseille), p. 375. A little further in the same interview Matta-Clark
himself declares the impossibility of this wish, saying "It would be interesting to make changes in a
place that people still lived in ... to take, perhaps, a very conventional notion of a living space and alter
it beyond use" (p. 376).
14. Matta-Clark,interview with Judith Russi Kirshner in ibid., p. 389.

(Garbage Wall, which served as a set for a performance before being dismantled
and thrown in a Dumpster); in 1971, another wall, the construction of which was
shot for his film Fire Boy, was built out of trash massed under the Brooklyn Bridge
and held together by a chain-link fence; in 1972, a whole house was constructed
in a trash bin, or rather a trash bin transformed into Open House.
His first "anarchitectural" piece-to use one of his favorite expressions-
plays on the linguistic equation: architecture=waste. This was Threshole (1973).
Under this generic term Matta-Clark designed a certain number of cutouts result-
ing in the removal of the thresholds of apartments in abandoned buildings in the
Bronx, often on several floors, opening the gloomy spaces to the light. (Threshole is
also a trash hole, a cloacal opening like that of the Paris sewers he filmed in 1977
in Sous-Sol de Paris.)15 Following this rather dangerous first move (since Matta-
Clark had no authorization to do this, and among other things risked being
attacked in these deserted places), the artist abandoned his practice as urban
guerrilla. This was not out of fear of the risk but because he didn't want to limit
himself to gnawing away at interior spaces that would remain invisible from the
street, and because he wanted to change scale, and, with all official permits in
place (not always without difficulty), to attack the building as a whole, like an
object in crisis. From the elegant simplicity of Splitting in 1974 (a suburban house
split vertically in two), or the laconism of Bingo in the same year (another house of
the same type whose rectangular fa?ade was divided into nine rectangles lifted
away one by one with the exception of the central rectangle, which stayed in place
like an absurd survivor of a cataclysm); to the formalism of Day's End in 1975
(sail-like silhouettes cut out from the ribbed metal wall, the roof, and the floor of
an immense warehouse on the docks of New York); to the allusion to optics
contained in Conical Intersect, also in 1975 (a periscope bored through two
neighboring houses, the last survivors before the construction of the nullity called
Quartier de l'Horloge in the center of Paris, and pointing onto the Centre
Pompidou in the process of construction); and up to the last Piranesiesque
cutouts in an office building in Anvers (Office Baroque, 1977), or in neighboring
houses in Chicago (Circus-Caribbean Orange, 1978); the negative spaces that
Matta-Clark pierced into architecture are ever more complex and ever more
visually, but also kinesthetically, stunning. To visit his final works was to be seized
by vertigo as one suddenly realized that one could not differentiate between
the vertical section and the horizontal plan (a perceptual nondifferentiation
particularly dangerous in a piece of Swiss cheese full of holes reflecting one into

15. It is possible that Matta-Clarkstarted by addressing the issue of the threshold for symbolic reasons:
the threshold is one of the rare places to carry a strong semantic load even in the most banal of
architecture, and to make a hole in it, by the very fact of materially suppressing it, is to underscore its
apothropaic function (on the threshold-and its modern substitute, the doormat-see the article "Seuil"
by Marcel Griaule in the "Critical Dictionary," Documents2 [1930], p. 103; trans. lain White in EA,
pp. 83-84). Whatever the reason, Matta-Clarkdidn't continue in this figurative vein: to the contrary, his
perforations tended toward an increasingly insistent dehierarchicization of the architectural elements.
GordonMatta-Clark.Splitting. 1974.

the other and in all directions), as if in order to learn "what space is," it was first
necessary that we lose our grip as erect beings.
But the unnerving beauty of the spaces developed by Matta-Clark's perfor-
ations should not make one forget the critical dimension of his project (the error
committed by all the architectural students for whom he is now the object of a
kind of cult). Matta-Clark considered architecture a clownish and pretentious
enterprise, and he would have been particularly enraged at having become a
model, enraged to see his provisional disruptions of buildings stylized under the
label of "deconstructionism" in the architectural projects of certain of his former
professors at Cornell. If the architect takes himself for a sculptor, he masks his
own role in capitalist society, which is to build rabbit warrens to the order of a
real-estate developer. There was a sovereign contempt in Matta-Clark's attitude
toward architects: What I do, you could never achieve, since that presupposes
accepting ephemerality, whereas you believe yourselves to be building for eternity.
But architecture has only one destiny, and that is, sooner or later, to go down the
chute, because it's waste. His own project was to underscore this state of things,
not to transcend it.


WATER CLOSET. Nothing could be more surprising, in reading Literatureand

Evil, than Bataille's very critical attitude toward Jean Genet, an author whose
entire output should, as Jacques Derrida has remarked, have brought these two
sensibilities together.1 Not only is he insensitive to Genet's prose ("his tales are
interesting, but not enthralling.There is nothing colder, less moving, under the
glittering parade of words, than the famous passage in which Genet recounts
Harcamone's death"), but he assimilates the "splendor" of the style, in the passage
in question, to "Aragon's feats in the early days of surrealism-the same verbal
facility, the same recourse to devices which shock," which he had so vilified in the
case of Andr6 Breton and his friends at the time of Documents.2
We could see the mark of a certain frustration in this, since it's Sartre's
Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr that Bataille is reviewing, a book in which he is
mentioned in terms similar to those used by Breton in the Second Surrealist
Manifesto ("Bataille tortures himself 'upon occasion': the rest of the time he is a
librarian").3 When he compares the beauty of the "famous" passage from Miracle
of the Rose to that "of jewels, too elaborate and in a coldly bad taste," Bataille,
annoyed, would only be signaling to Sartre that he's wrong about the merchandise,
that it's fake ("I'm not the one who's the real phony, he is": one is always some-
one's else's kitsch). But this would be to overlook the fact that several years
earlier what he called Genet's "baroquism" had appealed to Bataille and that
Genet's "bad taste" had seemed an effective tactic ("without the indefensible
vulgarity of all this, the scandal would not come together and the defiance would
not have this liberating quality").4
In fact, if Bataille is actually replying to Sartre in Literatureand Evil, it's by
pretending to make an "alliance with him."5 He begins by taking up Sartre's
argument ("Sartre himself noted a curious difficulty at the basis of Genet's work.
Genet, the writer, has neither the power to communicate with his readers nor the
intention of doing so. His work almost denies the reader"), then he continues by
saying that Sartre hasn't carried this argument to its conclusion (namely, "that in
these conditions the work was incomplete. It was a replacement, halfway from the
majorcommunication at which literature aims").6 But there it's a question of a
pose assumed at Genet's expense; for what Bataille means by communication has
little to do with what this word means for Sartre (Bataille's usage elsewhere had
been the object of an acid criticism in "A New Mystic,"the review Sartre published

1. See Jacques Derrida, Glas (1974), trans. John P. Leavey Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1986), pp. 216-29.
2. Georges Bataille, Literatureand Evil (1957), trans. Alastair Hamilton (London: Marion Boyers,
1985), p. 193.
3. Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet,Actorand Martyr,trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Braziller,
1963), p. 277. In TheSecondManifestoBreton had also sneered at Bataille's job as librarian.
4. Georges Bataille, "D'un caractere sacre des criminels" (1949), reprinted in OC,vol. 11, pp. 468-70.
5. Derrida speaks of "an alliance, not easily explicable, with Sartre" (Glas, p. 217).
6. Bataille, Literatureand Evil, p. 188.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 63

Jean Arp. Papier dechire. Circa1932.

Jean Arp. Papier dechire. Circa1932.

Untitled (Sperlonga).

in 1943 of L'experience interieure).It's almost the exact reverse. He even admits as

much a little earlier in the text: "Communication, in my sense of the word, is
never stronger than when communication, in the weak sense, the sense of profane
language or, as Sartre says, of prose which makes us and the others appear penetra-
ble, fails and becomes the equivalent of darkness."7The "strong communication,"
of which Bataille also says, a bit further on, that it isn't different from what he calls
"sovereignty,"isn't accessible through current language. The latter is founded on
the identity of terms to themselves, that of Good and Evil, for example, and above
all that of the Ego, while the sovereignty Bataille speaks of concerns those
moments of pure loss (laughter, ecstasy, tears, sexual pleasure) when identity
abolishes itself.
The human being is dissolved in "strong communication," by opening a
tear in himself through which he loses "a part of his own being to the profit of
the communal being," as Bataille expresses it in the lecture that, on July 4, 1939,
brought the College of Sociology to a close. Bataille takes as his first example
physical love ("No communication is more profound; Two creatures are lost in a
convulsion that binds them together. But they communicate only by losing a
portion of themselves. The communication binds them only through wounds
where their unity, their integrity disperse in the heat of excitement"); then he
broadens his definition of communication as loss to different social phenomena

7. Ibid., p. 199.
A User's Guide to Entropy 65

(initiations, sacrifices, festivals).8 In fact, the

underlying model here is the famous study by
Roger Caillois, "Mimicry and Legendary
Psychasthenia," that so struck Bataille several
years earlier (this essay, published in 1935, was
itself strongly indebted to Bataille's own
"Notion of Expenditure," published in 1933),
and it is to Caillois above all that this lecture
was addressed. In fact, Caillois should have par-
ticipated in this session of the College, but he
canceled at the last moment: having departed
suddenly for Buenos Aires, he left a text that
Bataille refused to read in his absence, since it
marked a profound disagreement that could
not have been aired without being discussed.
as if, with a delay, and ygia Clark Trailigs. 1964.
Everything transpired
under the pressure of a rupture through
which all the compromises and misunderstandings were being brought to light,
Bataille were reproaching Caillois for having drawn back from the consequences
of his own entropic interpretation of the phenomenon of mimicry as "depersonal-
ization by assimilation to space."9 In connecting animal mimicry and "legendary
psychasthenia," the expression the psychiatrist Pierre Janet used to designate
problems in spatial perception from which certain schizophrenic patients suffer,10
Caillois has of course attacked the anthropocentrism of Western metaphysics by
breaching the clear frontier between man and animal. But as Denis Hollier
remarks, he does this by having his essay nonetheless culminate "in a pleading for
distinctions" without which the will to power of the intellectual he was would not

8. Bataille, "The College of Sociology" (1939), in The Collegeof Sociology,ed. Denis Hollier, trans.
Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 337; reprinted in OC, vol. 2, pp.
369-70. On the circumstances surrounding this last lecture, see Denis Hollier, Le Collegede Sociologie,
2d ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 1995), pp. 817-38.
9. The first version of the text, as it appeared in Minotaure (no. 7, June 1935) didn't directly
refer to the second principle of thermodynamics explicitly mentioned in the final version of 1938 in
Le mytheet I'homme("In fact, we touch here on this fundamental law of the universe that Carnot's
principle notably brings to vivid light: the world tends toward uniformity") (Paris: Gallimard, coll.
"Idees," 1972), p. 115. In place of this allusion came a development on Flaubert and his Temptationof
Saint Anthony,which isn't a bad substitute. On Flaubert's fascination with entropy and the role this
idea plays in his late work, in particular Bouvard et Pecuchet,see Eugenio Donato, "The Museum's
Furnace," in Textual Strategies:Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josue Harari (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 213-38.
10. "To these dispossessed souls, space seems to be a devouring force. Space pursues them, encircles
them, digests them in a gigantic phagocytosis. It ends by replacing them. Then the body separates itself
from thought, the individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other sides of his senses,
feels himself becoming space, darkspacewherethingscannotbeput. He is similar, not similar to something,
but just similar.And he invents spaces of which he is 'the convulsive possession,"' (Caillois, "Mimicryand
Legendary Psychasthenia,"p. 30).
RichardSerra.Tearing Lead from
1:00 to 1:47. 1968.

be able to exert itself ("distinctions between the real and the imaginary, between
waking and sleeping, between ignorance and knowledge, etc.-all of them, in
short, distinctions in which valid considerations must demonstrate a keen aware-
ness and the demand for resolution")."l So Caillois wanted to look at the "tear in
being" from the outside; that is what Bataille indirectly reproaches him for.
And it is the same reproach he makes to Genet: in maintaining a "glass
partition" between himself and us, Genet refuses to lose himself.12 Even more,
he can't help but consolidate, even in its inversion, the identity he wanted to
annihilate. Refusing to consider the prohibition (i.e., his relation to the world
and to us), he is committed to failure; he is prisoner of the dialectic: "What is
vile is glorified, but Evil becomes pointless. ... In other words, Evil becomes a
duty, just as Good does."13
What would Bataille's astonishment have been, had he been able to read
"What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn into Little Regular Squares and Flushed
Down the Toilet," published in 1967 (after his death)?14 The text consists of two
fragments of a book on Rembrandt on which Genet had worked for some years, the
11. Ibid., p. 17. On this text, see Rosalind Krauss, "Corpus Deliciti," October33 (Summer 1985).
See also Hollier, "Mimesis and Castration 1937," pp. 3-15.
12. Bataille, Literatureand Evil, p. 198.
13. Ibid., p. 187.
14. Genet, "Ce qui est reste d'un Rembrandt dechire en petits carres bien reguliers, et foutu aux
chiottes," clearly written in the middle of the 1950s, reprinted in Genet, OeuvresCompletes,vol. 4
(Paris: Gallimard, 1968), pp. 21-31.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 67

huge manuscript which he had torn up and

thrown "in the toilet" in 1964, taking a vow,
which he only broke much later, never to write
again.15 It is organized in two columns. The
right-hand one, narrow and in italics, con-
cerns Rembrandt properly speaking (the text
would not have been out of place in Documents
almost forty years earlier: "It is from the
moment when he depersonalizes his models,
when he strips all identifiable qualities from
objects, that he gives to both the most weight,
the greatest reality. ... He presents himself in
his mania for smearing, mad for color, losing
the pretense to superiority and the hypocrisy
of the simulators. This can be felt in the late
pictures. But it has been necessary that Rembrandt recognize and accept himself
as a being of flesh-did I say of flesh?-of meat, of blubber, of blood, of tears, of
sweat, of shit, of intelligence and tenderness, of still other things, to infinity, but
none denying the others, or better, each saluting the others").16The second col-
umn, larger, gives the key to this reading of Rembrandt through the axis of the
informe.In it, Genet describes at some length a kind of epiphany, experienced
in a train in 1953, that profoundly shook his relation to writing (he had already
alluded to this in Giacometti'sStudio): "One day in a train compartment while
looking at the traveler seated across from me I had the revelation that every man
is worthevery other," and this sudden knowledge brought with it a "methodical dis-
integration." By chance, his glance crossed that of the rather ugly passenger who
had just raised his eyes from his newspaper (or rather, "my glance .. melted into
What I experienced I could translate only in these terms: I was flowing
out of my body and through my eyes into the traveler's at thesametimeas
he wasflowing into mine.... once the accidents-in this case repellent-
of his appearance were put aside, this man concealed and then let me
discover what made him identical to me. (I wrote that sentence first,
but I corrected it with this one, more exact and more devastating: I knew
I was identical to this man.)17

The identity of the self is canceled in this revelation. It is disseminated, since if all
men equal one another, "each man is every other man." "No man was my brother:
each man was myself, but temporarily isolated in his individual skin."18

15. See Edmund White, Genet:A Biography(New York:Alfred Knopf, 1993), p. 472.
16. Genet, OeuvresCompltes,p. 28.
17. Ibid., pp. 21-24. This passage is translated in White, Genet,p. 401.
18. Genet, OeuvresCompletes, pp. 26-27.

Genet's attitude is, of course, different from Bataille's, notably in that this
entropic dissolution, which the author of On Nietzsche would no doubt have lived
joyously, seemed to him a tragedy ("Soon nothing will count"), a crack announcing
the end of all erotic investigation, since that is only possible by supposing that
"each being has its individuality, that it is irreducible and that physical form
accounts for this."19 But the important thing here is that, doubtlessly without
Genet's knowing it, the epiphany on the train connects with Bataille's thought
about "communication" such that, "Essentially all beings are only one. They repel
each other at the same time that they are one. And in this movement-which is
their essence-the fundamental identity is annulled."20
Even if he sometimes signed his books Lord Auch, Bataille didn't tear up the
manuscripts he was unhappy with, much less throw them down the toilet (except,
perhaps, the manuscript for a book called WC.).21 Certain artists, however, wondered
what would remain of a work if it were torn up, or rather what would remain of the
concept of the work of art if the very act of tearing (an essentially entropic process:
irreversible, reducing everything to sameness) were to be the sole technique.
In a text directed against the interest in entropy in recent art (the book,
dating from 1971, had its sights fixed on Robert Smithson and Andy Warhol,
among others), Rudolf Arnheim quotes from Jean Arp's memoirs:
Around 1930 I did my first papiers dechires. A human opus now
struck me as being inferior even to disconnected work, as being totally
removed from life. Everything is approximate, even less than approxi-
mate, for if you peer more sharply and closely, even the most perfect
painting is a filthy, wart-infested approximation, a dried-up pap, a
desolate landscape of lunar craters. What arrogance is concealed in
perfection. Why strive for accuracy and purity if they can never be
attained? I now welcomed the decomposition that always sets in once a
work is ended. A dirty man puts his dirty finger on a subtle detail in a
painting to point it out. That place is now marked with sweat and
grease. He bursts into enthusiasm and the painting is sprayed with
saliva. A delicate picture of paper, a watercolor is thus lost. Dust and
insects are also efficient destroyers. Light makes colors fade. Sunshine
and warmth create blisters, loosen the paper, leave cracks in the paint

19. Ibid., p. 28.

20. Bataille, Sur Nietzsche(1945), reprinted in OC, vol. 6 (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), pp. 87-88; On
Nietzsche,trans. Bruce Boone (New York:Paragon House, 1992), p. 72. The text by Genet would moreover
in its entirety pass through Bataille's filter: we encounter the slaughterhouses of Les Halles where Genet
thinks he's found "the equivalence" he speaks of (that of every man) "in the fixed eye, but not without
a gaze, of the decapitated heads of sheep, piled in pyramids on the sidewalk" (Genet, OeuvresCompletes,
p. 25).
21. On this manuscript, written before TheStoryof theEye,a chapter of which seems to have escaped
destruction and to have been used as the introduction to Blue of Noon, see Hollier, Against Architecture,
pp. 117, 130. Auch is an abbreviation for aux chiottes,that is, "down the toilet."
A User'sGuideto Entropy 69

and make it chip. Moisture creates

mildew. The work decomposes and
dies. Now, the death of a painting
no longer devastated me. I had
come to terms with its ephemeral-
ness and its death, and included
them in the painting. Death, how-
ever, grew and devoured the paint-
ing and life. This decomposition
ought to have been followed by the
negation of all action. Form had
turned into formlessness, the finite
into infinity, the individual into
totality.22 !? !
Few artists will so clearly tie entropic dissolution to the debacle of the
informe,but obviously this isn't why Arnheim, one of the few guard dogs of Gestalt
psychology, quotes this text. It's rather its conclusion that excites him, where Arp
explains how, faced with the example of Sophie Taueber's work, he abandoned
this direction in his work to rediscover "clarity."Arp's torn papers, those from the
beginning at least (around 1932-34), mark his work with the seal of a violence he
would quickly abandon and to which he would never come back. The crisis over,
he platitudinously drivels: "I believe, even more than I did in my youth, that a
return to an essential order, to a harmony, is necessary to save the world from
endless bedlam."23A burst of applause from the Gestalt Man.
Others took up tearing where Arp had left it: Cy Twombly, for instance, in a
series of collages where bits of crumpled paper, the fallout from who knows what
disaster, coagulate on the page; Richard Serra, who begins methodically to tear a
sheet of lead on the ground and leaves his act interrupted in a sort of et ceterathat
invites us mentally to continue it; Christian Bonnefoi, who beginning in 1979, in a
series of works titled Babel, sets himself to tear his canvas in the direction of its
thickness to the point where all identities-the over and the under, the before
and the after-are confused.
The most radical, however, was undoubtedly Lygia Clark, who found a
response, very close to Bataille's, to the question of knowing "what remains of a

22. Quoted from Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories,ed. Marcel Jean (New York: Viking Press,
1969), pp. 246-47. Cited in Rudolf Arnheim, Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), p. 54. The book is dedicated to the memory of
Wolfgang K6hler, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. We should note that Arp, just before
beginning his series of torn papers, was rather close to the Documentsgroup. The review published
two articles on his work (one by Carl Einstein in 1930, in its last issue, and a brief review by Michel
Leiris-in no. 6, 1929, pp. 340-42-where one can easily compare the tone with that of the souvenir
text by Arp himself). See Arnheim, pp. 53-54.
23. Jean Arp, Arp on Arp, p. 246.

work torn in little bits thrown into the toilet." Properly speaking, it is not an issue
of tearing or of work, but of the tearing up of the concept of work. It is a question
of an experience that made everything as upsetting for the artist as the encounter
on the train had ever been for Genet. It is a "proposition," as she says, that dates
from 1964 and that she called "le Cheminant" (Trailing). The point of departure
is a Mobius strip, that cardinal image of topology that had been exploited in
sculpture by Max Bill (the fact should be noted: Max Bill had a whole group of
followers in Brazil, and it was against them that Lygia Clark and her friends
launched Neo-Concretism in 1959). Anyone can make a Trailing beginning with a
paper M6bius strip:
Then take a pair of scissors, stick one point into the surface and cut
continuously along the length of the strip. Take care not to converge
with the preexisting cut-which will cause the band to separate into two
pieces. When you have gone the circuit of the strip, it's up to you
whether to cut to the left or to the right of the cut you've already made.
This idea of choice is capital. The special meaning of this experience is
in the act of doing it. The work is your act alone. To the extent that you
cut the strip, it refines and redoubles itself into interlacings. At the end
the path is so narrow that you can't open it further. It's the end of the

Nothing is left on the floor but a pile of paper spaghetti that one can put in the
trash (so as not to plug up the W.C.). The act of "trailing" marks one of those
moments of "strong communication" dear to Bataille ("At the outset, the Trailing
is only a potentiality. You are going to form, you and it, a unique, total, existential
reality. No more separation between subject and object. It's an embrace, a fusion").
"There is nothing before, nothing after." Nothing, if not a certain consciousness of
time and the beauty of its irremediable loss. As with Genet's epiphany, a train trip
played a role in this discovery, but this time retroactively, as confirmation: "The
Trailing only took on meaning for me once, crossing the countryside by train, I
experienced each fragment of the landscape as a temporal totality, a totality in the
process offorming, of producing itself before my eyes, in the immanence of the
moment."25 The absence of the work is sometimes ecstatic.


24. Lygia Clark, "Nostalgia of the Body," October69(Summer 1994), p. 99.

25. Ibid., pp. 99-100.
: i S : L

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:i:t;: i :: :; : r f:: !ilF


X MARKS THE SPOT. Some time in 1965 Bruce Nauman made a plaster cast of
the space under his chair. Perhaps it was late in the year, after Donald Judd's
"Specific Objects" essay had appeared, or perhaps earlier, for example in February,
in relation to Judd's review of Robert Morris's Green Gallery exhibition, or in
October, after Barbara Rose had published "ABC Art," her own bid to theorize
Minimalism.1 In any event, Nauman's cast, taking the by-then recognizable shape
of a Minimalist sculpture, whether by Morris or Tony Smith, orJudd himself, was
more or less cubic, grayish in color, simple in texture ... which made it no less the
complete anti-Minimalist object.
Several years later, when the tide against Minimalism had turned, and the
attack on Minimalism's industrial metaphor-its conviction in the well-built
object, its display of rational tectonics and material strength-was in full swing,
this reaction would move under the banner of "Anti-Form," which is to say a set
of strategies to shatter the constructed object and disperse its fragments.2 But
Nauman's cast, which he repeated the following year in two other forays-Shelf
Sinking into the Wall with Copper-Painted Plaster Casts of the Spaces Underneath
(1966) and Platform Made up of the Space between Two Rectilinear Boxes on the Floor
(1966)-acting well before anti-form, does not take this route of explosion, or
dismemberment, or dissemination. It does not open the closed form of the
fabricated object to release its material components from the corset of their
construction, to turn them over to the forces of nature-gravity, wind, erosion-
which would give them quite another articulation, one cast in the shadow of
natural processes of change. Rather, it takes the path of implosion or congealing,
and the thing to which it submits this stranglehold of immobility is not matter,
but what vehiculates and subtends it: space itself.
Nauman's attack, far more deadly than anti-form-because it is about a
cooling from which nothing will be able to extricate itself in the guise of whatever
articulation-is an attack made in the very name of death, or to use another term,
entropy. And for this reason, the ambiguity that grips these residues of Nauman's
casts of interstitial space, the sense, that is, that they are object-like, but that without
the title attached to them like an absurd label, one has no idea of what they are,
even of what general species of object they might belong to, seems particularly
fitting. It is as though the congealing of space into this rigidly entropic condition
also strips it of any means of being "like" anything. If the constant utilitarian
character of Minimalist objects-they are "like" boxes, benches, portals, etc.-or
the more evocative turn of process works, continued to operate along the condi-
tion of form, which is that, having an identity, it be meaningful, it is the
ultimate character of entropy, Nauman's casts force us to realize, that it congeal
the possibilities of meaning as well. Which is to say that this conception of

1. Donald Judd, "Specific Objects," Arts Yearbook 7 (1965); Judd, "Reviews,"Arts (February 1965);
Barbara Rose, "ABCArt,"Art in America(October 1965).
2. Robert Morris, "Anti-Form,"Artforum,vol. 6 (April 1968), pp. 33-35; reprinted in Continuous
Project,AlteredDaily: The Writingsof RobertMorris(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993).
Allan McCollum.Natural Copies
from the CoalMinesof Central
Utah. 1995.

entropy, as a force that sucks out all the intervals between points of space, not
only understands the "Brownian movement" of molecular agitation as slowed to a
stop, but also imagines the eradication of those distances that regulate the grid of
oppositions, or differences, necessary to the production of meaning.
Although he never, himself, pushed his own concerns with entropy into the
actual making of casts, Robert Smithson had alwaysconsidered casting as a way of
theorizing entropy, since he had written about the earth's crust as itself a giant
cast, the testimony to wave after wave of cataclysmic forces compressing and
congealing life and all the spatial intervals necessary to sustain it. Quoting
Darwin's remark "Nothing can appear more lifeless than the chaos of rocks,"
Smithson treasured the geological record as a "landslide of maps," the charts and
texts of the inexorable process of cooling and death.3 For each rock, each lithic
band is the evidence of whole forests, whole species that have decayed-"dying by
the millions"-and under the pressure of this process have become a form of
frozen eternity. In a movingly poetic text, "Strata:A Geophotographic Fiction,"
he attempted to prize apart these layers of compression, alternating blocks of
writing with strips of photographs showing the fossil record trapped within the
magma of the rock, as the demonstrative presentation of wave after wave-
Cambrian, Silurian, Devonian, Permian, Triassic,Jurassic-of wreckage.
Smithson realized, of course, that the very act of textualizing this material

3. Smithson, Writings,pp. 75-77.

Allan McCollum.Natural Copies
from the CoalMinesof Central
Utah. 1995.

PabloPicasso.Moulage de papier

was one of building spatiality back into it, of producing those oppositions and
differences necessary to open the surface to the intelligibility of reading and the
organization of form. He quoted the paleontologist Edwin Colbert saying: "Unless
the information gained from the collecting and preparing of fossils is made
available through the printed page, assemblage specimens is [sic] essentially a pile
of meaningless junk." It was the conflict between the '"junk"and the "text" that
seemed to fascinate him.
If fossils are nature's form of casting, the turn taken in art world concerns in
the 1970s and '80s led away from Smithson's attention to the natural, by moving
deeper into the terrain of industrial culture that Minimalism had been exploring
from the outset, although by now this had become a kind of Minimalism crossed
with Pop art. For the concern was no longer with the tectonics of industrial pro-
duction so much as with its logic, which is that of serialization, the multiple, and
replication. And although casting is a paradigm of any process of reduplication, of
A User'sGuideto Entropy 75

spinning out masses of copies from a single matrix or mold, it was the photo-
graphic rather than the cast form of the duplicate that increasingly took hold of
the art world's imagination. For the photograph brought with it the simulacral
notion of the mirage, of a reality that had been engulfed within its own technol-
ogy of imitation, a fall into a hall of mirrors, a disappearance into a labyrinth in
which original and copy are indistinguishable. The photograph seemed capable of
raising the problem of reality in the grip of what Baudrillard would call "the mir-
ror of production" in a way that the mere cast could not.
Itself emerging from this culture of the multiple, Allan McCollum's work
was, however, not to move along this photographic construal of simulacra. Rather,
it was to cycle back to the issue of casting by entering into a relation with the very
most classical enunciation of the matrix or original as a kind of ontological ideal
from which all existent objects are modeled. This eidos, or form, could also be
thought of as the genus that contains within itself-as a kind of ideal repertory-
the "footprint" for all actualization of its
form of life into species. AllanMcCollum.Over10,000Individual
Proceeding, then, to an exploration Works.1987-88.
of the generic, McCollum's work became
an ironic rewriting of modernist art's
own attempts to reduce individual
media-painting, sculpture, photogra-
phy, etc.-to their very essence as genres,
or aesthetic norms. However, anti-formal
to its very marrow, McCollum's reduction
was not to an abstract condition-flatness,
say, or opticality-but to a generic type
("painting" as a blank canvas with a
frame around it; "sculpture" as a kitsch
bauble, a shape meant for mass produc-
tion) that could serve as the model
from which to generate potentially end-
less numbers of copies. It was thus the
industrialization of the eidos that inter-
ested him, as he struck a kind of blow
against the reproductive as natural or
ideal (the constant reclaiming of
species "identity") and presented it
instead as a force of proliferation of the
same, a kind of silting up of the space of
difference into an undifferentiable,
entropic continuum. In this sense, pro-
liferation, as the endlessly compulsive
spinning out of "different" examples,

came full circle in the 1980s to join hands with the 1960s effacement of difference,
as McCollum's nightmare of mass production began to reinvent Smithson's fantasy
of mass extinction, thus bringing about a convergence of the two over the
importance of the fossil record.
If the fossil as the "natural copy" fascinates McCollum, this is because it
brings the generic-in the form of the industrialization of eidos-into collision
with the biological genus, realized through the fossil in the form of its own
genetic eradication, marked only by the mold of one or more of its members left
in passing. The production of dinosaur tracks is a particularly interesting example
of the natural cast, one that had fascinated Smithson as well, at the time of his
"Geophotographic Fiction."4 Such tracks are made by the heavy animal's having
walked through mud-covered peat bogs, leaving large negative depressions that
were filled in by the mud, which eventually hardened into solid rock "casts"of the
footprints while the peat around these tracks reduced into coal. In the Utah sites
these were revealed as the coal was removed from around them, leaving the
footprints to protrude from the roof of the mine.
The specificity of these casts as evidence, their testimony to the passage at a
particular time and place of the movement of a now-vanished animal, would seem,
of course, to give them a particularity that is far away from McCollum's earlier
practice of the cast as a form of the "generic": that endlessly proliferating series of
increasingly meaningless signs. Working against the grain of the multiple, these
casts would seem instead to have the character of something absolutely unique,
something that had existed in a specific place, and to which this object mutely
points: X Marks the Spot,as the title of a book on criminal deaths, reviewed briefly
by Bataille,5 put it-the trace of an utterly contingent "this."
If, however, McCollum's impulse is to treat these "trace fossil" footprints as
though they were readymades, and to parade them both as burgeoning sets of
multiples and as the gaudily colored items from the most kitsch of souvenir
shops-thus industrializing not just the generic but also the genetic-this is not
simply from an irreverence for the idea of primal life. It is, rather, to go back to
the kind of content that Nauman had built into his casts of particular spaces-
which understood the very specificity of the trace itself (the "this") as a form of
entropy, a congealing of the paradigm. Once more it is to join the proliferation
enabled by the mold or matrix to the X that congeals the very possibility of space
even as it marks the spot.


4. Not only does Smithson reproduce a photograph of dinosaur tracks (found on the
Connecticut River in Massachusetts) in his "Geophotographic" text (ibid., p. 129), but he also made
a work related to the idea of footprints, by photographing an array of dog tracks around a puddle of
water in Bergen Hill, New Jersey. Called Dog Tracks(1969), the paw prints, with their overlapping
and indeterminacy, symbolized for him the way his Sites constituted "open sequences." See Hobbes,
RobertSmithson,pp. 117-19.
5. Bataille, "X Marks the Spot," Documents8 (1930), p. 437.
A User's Guide to Entropy 77

YO-YO. We could see it as the relatively sophisticated, commercially produced

equivalent of the little object Freud's infant grandson made famous, as he threw
the spool onto his cot to make it disappear behind the bedclothes and then
pulled on the string attached to it to draw it back into view, the first gesture
accompanied by a mournful "fo-o-ort" and the second by a joyous "da!"' And the
yo-yo is servicable in this connection in yet another dimension, since its very
name cycles around the field of linguistic principles that the "fort/da" instrument
For yo-yo belongs to a whole series of childish terms, the very earliest being
mama and papa, but subsequent ones being caca and peepee, in which the wild
sound of infantile babbling is suddenly articulated, or spaced, or cut out, not just
into perceptible rhythmic regularity but into the freestanding condition of the
signifier, through the act of repetition. For it is repetition that doubles back on
the first sound to mark it as deliberately phonemic by the very fact of being
repeatable. Thus, as Jakobson says, the basis for the transition from wild sound
production to verbal behavior is, precisely, reduplication, since it is the repetition
of the first sound by the second that serves to signal "that the uttered sounds do
not represent a babble, but a senseful, semantic entity."2 Thus for Jakobson, it is
duplication that is "linguistic essence," since it transforms sounds to phonemes by
marking, or re-marking them, by establishing that they "are to be recognizable,
distinguishable, identifiable; and in accordance with these requirements, they
must be deliberately repeatable."3
"Fort/da" is not, however, one of these redoubled vocables, although the
game played by means of it-in both its verbal and mechanical guise-did involve
constant repetition. "Fort/da" is, instead, a game of rhythmic separation and
reconnection, in which something disappears from sight and is recognized again,
both disappearance and return accompanied by language that penetrates this
activity almost to the point of becoming its support. For Freud articulates the
"fort/da" as allowing for the rise of linguistic representation in the negation of
the object (throwing it away simultaneously with producing a substitute for it in the
form of a verbal sign: "fort") and in the separation of the field of the represented
(the sign, the fantasy image) from that of the real ("da!"). Indeed, it is in this
founding act of negativity that Freud locates the intellectual feat on which language
as well as culture in general will be instituted.
And many linguists agree with him. For if Freud claims that all denial-
every "no" or every "fort"-nevertheless necessitates the positive presentation of
the object to consciousness, since "Negation is a way of taking notice of the

1. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), in The Standard Edition of the Complete
PsychologicalWorksof Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press and the
Institute for Psycho-Analysis, 1953-73), vol. 18, pp. 7-64.
2. Roman Jakobson, "Why Mama and Papa?" SelectedWritings,vol. 1 (The Hague: Mouton, 1962),
pp. 538-45.
3. Ibid.

PieroManzoni.Achrome. 1961.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 79

repressed,"4 he is describing the fact that in the order of language negation isn't
simply expulsion but is, first, admission, since as linguists would say, language
"must explicitly pose in order to suppress," or "ajudgment of non-existence nec-
essarily has the formal status as well of a judgment of existence." As Emile
Benveniste writes,
Don't we see here that the linguistic factor is decisive in this complex
process and that negation is in a certain way constitutive of the
denied contents? ... The subject's discourse can multiply denials, but
not abolish the fundamental property of language which is to imply
that something corresponds to what is stated, something and not

Negation and verbal representation are thus articulated onto one another,
and Freud ends his essay with the celebrated statement: "The accomplishment
of the function of judgment is rendered possible in the first instance because
the constitution of the symbolof negation has permitted thought a first degree of
independence in relation to the consequence of repression and at the same
time from the coercion of the pleasure principle."6
But if yo-yo seems to tie into the fort/da's linguistic structure more through
its own mechanical enactment of negation and return than through its linguistic
doubling, it was to be Julia Kristeva's argument that negativity and rhythm are
necessary to one another in the constitution of the speaking subject, so that in
her view fort/da and yo-yo would indeed map onto each other and in all their
dimensions. This is because Kristeva, anxious to forge a connection between the
somatic and the psychic (and thus ultimately, the symbolic), sees the pulsatile beat
of the drives as the bridge between the body's flexion-the spasmodic movement
of the glottal or anal sphincters, for example-and the repetition necessary to
language's fundamental spacing, or articulation. It is from this beat that Kristeva
sets up what she calls a "chora":"The chora,as rupture and articulations (rhythm)
precedes evidence, verisimilitude, spatiality and temporality. The chora is not a
sign nor is it a signifier. It is, however, generated in order to attain to this signify-
ing position. It underlies figuration."7 And to this chora she gives the value of the
semiotic: "The semiotic is articulated by flow and marks: facilitation, energy
transfers, the cutting up of the corporeal and the social continuum as well as that
of signfying material, the establishment of a distinctiveness and its ordering in a
pulsating chora, in a rhythmic but nonexpressive totality."8

4. Freud, "Negation" (1925), StandardEdition,vol. 19, pp. 235-39.

5. Emile Benveniste, "Language in Freudian Theory," Problemsin GeneralLinguistics (Coral Gables:
University of Miami Press, 1971), p. 73.
6. Italics mine. Freud, "Negation," p. 239.
7. Julia Kristeva, Revolutionin PoeticLanguage (1972), trans. Margaret Waller (New York:Columbia
University Press, 1984), p. 26.
8. Ibid., p. 40.

i PieroManzoni.Achrome.1961.

Now if Kristeva invokes the term "chora" here, it is not to echo that part of
Plato's definition in the Timaeusthat portrays the chora as amorphous, but the part
that sees it as maternal: being the matrix, the nurse, the becoming-imprinted.9
For the rhythmic body is also that of the maternal support to which the nursing
infant continues to be connected until what Kristeva calls a "semiotic break" is
performed, which in separating from the mother's body, institutes the first big
rejection, and thus the ground for the child's "no," the no on which intellectual
negation will be constructed.10 The rhythmic maternal (yo-yo) thus combines with
negation's rupture (yo/yo) to produce the speaking subject; a subject who if, as
Benveniste reminds us, never speaks about "nothing," is the semantic subject as
And it is in just this sense that yo-yo is incompatible with everything that the
operation "pulse"or "beat"attempts to demonstrate about the work of the informe.
For "pulse"does not open onto the rhythmic work that Kristeva describes, as that

9. Kristeva writes: "Neither model nor copy, the chora precedes and underlies figuration and
thus specularization, and is analogous only to vocal or kinetic rhythm. We must restore this motility's
gestural and vocal play . on the level of the socialized body in order to remove motility from
ontology and amorphousness where Plato confines it in an apparent attempt to conceal it from
Democritean rhythm. The theory of the subject proposed by the theory of the unconscious will
allow us to read in this rhythmic space, which has no thesis and no position, the process by which
significance is constituted. Plato himself leads us to such a process when he calls this receptacle or
choranourishing and maternal" (ibid., p. 26).
10. Ibid., p. 47.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 81

rhythm puts in place both the stability of form and the fullness of meaning.
Indeed, far from representing the rhythmic alternation of the pleasure principle's
+ and -, the pulsation of the "beat" turns around the death drive's condition of
shock, of "bad form," of a repetition always undergirded by the rupture of total
extinction, and thus a rhythm of + and 0.
In this sense it is important to distinguish between Lyotard's sense of
matrix, which is generative of bad form, and Kristeva's very different matrix,
which is rhythmic, maternal, productive; since the first does the work of the
informe while the latter is given over to form.
Within the field of artistic practice, various challenges to the positive,
productive, maternal idea of the matrix have been organized, none perhaps so
lethally effective as the production of the "a-chrome" as ultimately developed
by Manzoni. For the a-chrome was Manzoni's version of monochrome painting
carried out by taking the world's materials-pleated cloth, pebbles, bread rolls-
and covering them over with a uniform coating of kaolin, thereby producing a
strange combination of abstraction (monochrome) and readymade (anything
massed onto the picture plane). This productive strategy, insofar as it employs a
clay coating, obviously equates matter (and its proliferation) with mater (or earth,
and its fecundity). But increasingly, after 1961, Manzoni identifies proliferation
with non-natural materials, in fact with toxic industrial products such as
Styrofoam or glass wool. So that in what would seem like an invocation of the
matrix in the placenta-like or cushioning surfaces of works like the Nuages, there
is in fact the entirely antimaternal implication of the overproduction of artificial,
nonbiodegradable matter, which can only proliferate as waste.


ZONE. Bataille conceived of a kind of thermodynamics in reverse. In his view,

because the sun's energy is in a state of superfluity, we are condemned to an
ever-increasing overproduction, and it is this cosmic imbalance that is at the root
of the cyclical character of certain regulatory mechanisms-like war-that are
activated by a buildup of unspent energy (war, an unproductive expenditure,
represents the sudden release of an excessive amount of energy at the point
when the pressure has become too great, like steam escaping through the safety
valve of a pressure cooker). This model, which began to be formulated in 1933
in "The Notion of Expenditure," but which Bataille would further elaborate in
The Accursed Share (1949), seems at first glance to depend on a law totally contrary
to that of entropy. Yet the outcome Bataille has in mind would be every bit as
eschatological as Carnot's own original prediction of the progressive cooling-down
of the solar system.
MarcelDuchamp.Studyfor thecoverof
La SeptiemeFacedu de byGeorges
Hugnet. 1936.

Of course, Bataille is supremely opti-

o ;overpPare mistic: aware that, if it keeps traveling down
the same road in its race against the over-
Jat-routoisAsproduction of energy, humanity one day
of| condemn itself (a fortiori if it sets the
moringX~ trsolution of war aside, as increasingly endan-
gering its survival), he sees nothing less
g at sd oethanawradical change of attitude that would
e orrn p rg nforceman to accede to sovereignty (volun-
tary renunciation of usefulness and of the
accumulation of riches; propagation of non-
productive expenditures). But he doesn't
exclude the possibility of failure.
At the time of Documents,in any case,
such optimism was unwarranted, and, more
(andi thu differen d n hgsthana potential liberation, Bataille dreamed
of a necessary, perfectly entropic, corollary
of overproduction: namely, the noncompactible burgeoning of unassimilable
waste. Using dust as its emblem, he begins by noting the repression to which this
waste-production is subject: "The storytellers have not realized that the Sleeping
Beauty would have awoken covered with a thick layer of dust.... Meanwhile dismal
sheets of dust constantly invade earthly habitations and uniformly defile them."
He then alludes to the Sisyphean battle of the "cleaning ladies," armed each
morning with their feather dusters and their vacuum cleaners to combat this
daily tide. Finally, he concludes that the battle is uneven and hopeless: "One day
or another, given its persistence ... dust will probably begin to gain the upper
hand over the servants, pouring immense amounts of rubbish into abandoned
buildings and deserted dockyards."l
One of the inscriptions of time (whose irreversibility is demonstrated by
the law of entropy), dust is, semiologically speaking, an index. In this it is like
photography, but its trace is of duration. Duchamp put his finger on this indicial
quality quite precisely, when he let dust accumulate in layers of differing thicknesses
(and thus different durations) on his Large Glass in order to obtain degrees of
transparency and of varied colors once a fixative was applied (Elevagede poussiere,
the photograph he had Man Ray take at that point, is an index of an index).2

1. 5 (1929) ("CriticalDictionary"),p. 278; reprintedin

OC,vol. 1, p. 196; trans. Iain White in EA, pp. 42-43 (translation slightly modified). In the same issue,
the second article "Homme" of the "Critical Dictionary" appeared (see supra, "To Introduce a User's
Guide"): What would Bataille not have added had he known that dust is in large part constituted of
human exfoliations? In the following issue of Documentsthe famous text on the "big toe" appeared.
2. "Elever de la poussiere sur les verres ... Differences - chercher." Marcel Duchamp, "La marine
mise a nu par ses celibaraires, meme," notes published in a limited edition in 1934, reprinted in Salt
Seller,ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973). Henri-
PierreRochereportsthat close to the LargeGlass,as it restedon a table and wascoveredwithvariously
A User'sGuideto Entropy 83

Ashes occupy the same indicial plane, or more precisely cigarette ash (in that the
implied duration is relatively standardized-the phenomenology of cigarettes
being different from that of pipes or cigars,
which go out once one no longer puffs on -:: :;: :
them; the cigarette burns all by itself, a fire E j
with little variation). This is what Man Ray : ifSf
considered at almost the same moment (in
1920), as he photographed the contents of :
an ashtray dumped onto the floor to make : :
an image he called New Yorkand collaged,
along with a map of Paris, into a work titled ; ESTATE
Transatlantique, the city being an ashtray ;-<:
overflowing with butts. As for Duchamp, in
order to mark the entropic irreversibility of
time, he photographed cigarettes stripped of -ilB i Xi
their paper skins to make the cover of a book
whose title is La Septi?meFace du de (The ':
Seventh Side of the Die): an unusable die 0 Ol TUNITIES
would mark the stoppage of the calendar,just
as the cigarettes would become unsmokable.
But dust, Bataille also says, pours Edward Ruscha.RealEstate
immense amounts of rubbish ("immenses Opportunities. 1970.
decombres") into "abandoned buildings,
deserted dockyards,"which is to say the area called the "zone."It would even seem
that its irreversible invasion must end by chasing "the servants" away and empty-
ing all "earthly habitations" of their occupants, transforming them into "deserted
dockyards" (dust in the zone: there again
**____ ~?iyou have a double index). On an urban
of s, layes
thick scale, the zone is what dust is at the scale of
the single dwelling: it's the waste that
inevitably accompanies production (which is
necessarily, we should remember, overpro-
As an organism, the City always, of
course, tries to combat entropic proliferation
at the same time that it generates it; as a capi-
talist enterprise, it always invents new means
of recycling waste. In one of his most devas-
tating books, Real Estate Opportunities, Ed
Ruscha reproduces-without comment--

thick layers of dust, was a sign in Duchamp's studio that read "Dust breeding. To be respected" (Victor
[Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1977], p. 65).

GordonMatta-Clark.Reality Property:
Fake Estates. 1973.

twenty-five photographs of empty lots within the (very flaccid, as we know) urban
fabric of Los Angeles. Each brandishes a "ForSale" sign, and although the lots are
likely to have been sold by now, thus having been reintegrated into the circuit of
production (the book dates from 1970), some are full of brambles, the temporal
index of a real-estate market that wasn't in full swing when the photograph was
taken. Even temporarily, these plots are negative spaces (some remaining so for a
very long time, even indefinitely, especially if the hemorrhaging spreads to neigh-
boring lots), and in any case they will be replaced by others. The zone would thus
seem assimilable, yet always renews itself (it's the Hydra of Lerne), and it is neces-
sary that it grow: the present turning of the planet into a mammoth trash can is
the sad confirmation of this prognosis. (Robert Smithson, relying on the work of
the economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, would doubt the efficacy of ecological
recycling: it is, he says, "like looking for needles in haystacks.")3
Sometimes the entropic buildup is less spectacular; sometimes the waste is
clean. Nonetheless, it threatens the urban map, and the city always tries to
eliminate it. New York City's auctioning off of mostly unusable, interstitial
spaces, at twenty-five dollars apiece, is one of the most incongruous examples of
3. Smithson, "EntropyMade Visible" (1973), in Writings,p. 302.
A User'sGuideto Entropy 85

this battle lost in advance (to return dead zones to

commercial circulation is to try to prevent the
invasion of dust). Gordon Matta-Clark,at the time
when he had just begun to make his holes in con-
demned buildings, had the insight that here it was
a matter of economic voids, of holes he didn't even
need to pierce, and he became a buyer-not to
join in the battle against entropy (quite to the
contrary), but to demonstrate its repressed
occurrence in the urban context. He documented
his acquisitions on panels, one to a plot, showing
the title of the property, the map of the area, and photographs:
They were a group of fifteen micro-parcels of land in Queens, left-over
properties from an architect's drawing. One or two of the prize ones
were a foot strip down somebody's driveway and a foot of sidewalk. And
the others were curbstone and gutter space. What I basically wanted to
do was to designate spaces that wouldn't be seen and certainly not
That wouldn't be seen, not so much because they would be inaccessible
(although this was true in some cases),5 but because they had no use-value whatever
and only a purely nominal exchange-value: these
are fake commodities, fake real-estate properties
(the title of the work, perhaps the most conceptual
Matta-Clark ever did, is Reality Properties:Fake Estates,
which puns on the fact that realityis an archaic term
for real estate). They didn't interest Matta-Clark
unless they had no economic value whatever.
Of course, the zone is visible (even though we
prefer to block it from sight), but not the turning-
into-the-zone: we only see the zone once it's in
place, just as we don't see dust until it has settled.
The Society of Use produces multitudes of these
remainders that are imperceptible until the point
of no return has been reached (again duration is
always implicated). Let's take the example of out-
door parking lots: it took Ruscha's photographing EdwardRuscha.Thirtyfour
thirty or so of them from a helicopter one Sunday ParkingLots. 1967.

4. Gordon Matta-Clark,interview with Liza Bear, Avalanche (December 1974), p. 34, reprinted in
GordonMatta-Clark,exhibition catalogue (Marseille), p. 373.
5. "When I bought those properties at the New York City Auction, the description of them that
always excited me the most was 'inaccessible'" (GordonMatta-Clark[Marseille], p. 373). One wonders,
then, what the documentary photograph on the corresponding panel would have consisted of.

when they were empty for one to notice that they are a mighty sewer, a machine
for the production of oil spots (ThirtyfourParking Lots in Los Angeles, 1967). Of
course, from time to time (precisely when the point of no return is about to be
reached), they are given a new coat of asphalt, but the spot always reforms and
inevitably wins, for the battle against the invader is a losing one-perhaps this is
what the Fluxus "performance," during which a group of friends vigorously
cleaned a piece of sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, sponges, brooms, and scouring pads
at the ready, wanted to show.6
Ruscha is the great census-taker of these little nothings that eat away at the
city, but above all he sees the city itself as dust, as a mounting tide of nondifferen-

6. Hi Red Center, "Street Cleaning Event," 1966. See Tomas Kellien, Fluxus (London: Thames &
Hudson, 1995), pp. 64-65. I thank Ethel Bonn for having alerted me to this performance.

GordonMatta-Clark.Reality Property:
..... ..EdwardRuscha.Every Building
on the SunsetStrip. 1966.

Ii _

tiation (and the galloping spread of suburbia proves him right). For he takes
urban dust as the greasy version of a "cleaner"evil that is characteristic of advanced
capitalism and its mass media, namely entropy as defined by information theory
(the informational content of a message is in inverse proportion to its entropy).
This theory, whose effects are pervasive in all of Ruscha's pictorial production,
notably his word paintings, designates everything that hinders or even is useless to
the transmission of the message as "noise";and, by extension, everything that has
no informational content, everything that is repeated, predictable, redundant-all
of that is nothing but dust. In this sense the city itself, as a megalopolis, has
become pure noise, pure zone.
Robert Smithson went to look for the zone in the great industrial suburbs
of New Jersey. "Completely controlled by" his Instamatic, he discovered many
"ruins in reverse,that is-all the new construction that would eventually be built,"
returning with photographs of ridiculous "monuments" (for example, "concrete
abutments that supported the shoulders of a new highway in the process of being
built").7 But he needn't have gone so far. Even though his first book, Twenty-Six
Gasoline Stations (1963)-one for each letter of the alphabet-covers a rather
great distance, reproducing the gas stations, photographed deadpan from the
opposite side of the road, that he encountered between Oklahoma City and
Los Angeles, Ruscha stayed mostly within the same urban perimeter for his

7. Smithson, "ATour of the Monuments of Passaic, NewJersey" (1967), in Writings,pp. 67-74.


"monument" hunts. In Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), which moreover
struck Smithson very forcefully,8 he exhaustively shows, in a "panorama" form
composed of sixty-two accordion-folded pages, all the buildings of the most
famous section of Sunset Boulevard. (One can "read"the book in both directions,
since the two sides of the boulevard symmetrically oppose one another on each
page, one right side up, the other upside down: at one end number 8100 is
reflected in 8101; at the other number 9176 corresponds to 9171, although, of
course, this almost perfect correspondence of even and odd numbers is rare in the
book.) It should be said that it was not only buildings that were photographed-
there are also street intersections, occasional lawns, cars whose drivers are rarely
seen-since it was a matter of a complete inventory. No effort was made, however,
to mask the discontinuity of the recording process: the photographic joins are
crude, a way of showing that the very technique of information-the discontinuous
"bit"-necessarily produces a certain quotient of entropy. In other books, Ruscha
abandons the principle of exhaustiveness and concentrates instead on a building
type (Some Los Angeles Apartments of 1965, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass of
1968), or even on the palm trees that are more populous in Los Angeles than
pedestrians-trees whose diversity surprises the tourists (A Few Palm Trees,1971).
Always the same uniformity, always the same anonymous quality, but without the
somewhat denunciatory tone that we find in Dan Graham when, in Homesfor
America, he makes a survey of prefab housing developments "designed to be
thrown away,"9or the perverse admiration of Robert Venturi in front of Levittown
or Las Vegas. Simply the recognition of the same (that, for the most part, Ruscha's
books use the same format and identical typeface, provides an example), and the
same as nothing. Speaking of the Sunset Strip, which he photographed at noon to
accentuate its desolate quality, Ruscha writes: "All I was after was that store-front
plane. It's like a Western town in a way. A store-front plane of a Western town is
just paper, and everything behind is just nothing."10Hollywood, the beehive of the
media at the center of Los Angeles, needs no help imagining ghost towns full of

8. Smithson, "A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art" (1968), in ibid., p. 91. The allusion to
the Ruscha book comes in a section titled "Spectral Suburbs,"where the suburbs are described as an
"immense negative entity of formlessness" that "displaces the center which is the city and invades the
country." The interpretation of the suburbs as the overflow of "formless masses of urban residue,"
taken from Lewis Mumford, had strongly impressed Guy Debord, who comments on it in TheSocietyof
theSpectaclein 1967. Debord touches briefly on parking lots, whose proliferation also struck Ruscha.
9. Dan Graham, "Homes for America," Arts Magazine, vol. 41 (December 1966-January 1967);
reprinted in RockMy Religion(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), pp. 14-21. On this project (and its relation
to Ruscha's work), see Benjamin Buchloh, "Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetics of
Administration to the Critique of Institutions," October55 (Winter 1990). Smithson, in "A Museum of
Language in the Vicinity of Art,"had made the connection between EveryBuilding on theSunsetStripand
Graham's project.
10. Ed Ruscha, cited in David Bourdon, "Ruscha as Publisher (or All Booked Up)," Art News (April
1972), p. 34.

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